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Plant Bulbs Now To Light Up The Spring Garden

The Rural Intelligence region is fortunate to have so many gardening experts close by. Our garden writer, Madaline Sparks, is the principal in her own design, installation and maintenance business, Madaline Sparks Garden Design, with clients in Columbia and Berkshire counties. For 12 years she was the contributing garden editor at Real Simple Magazine. Madaline and her husband, Wayne Greene, live in Spencertown, NY where both are very active volunteers at Spencertown Academy Arts Center.

Even though it’s late October, it’s not too late to plant spring-flowering bulbs. They must be planted in the fall because they require a sustained “dormant” period of cold temperatures to stimulate root development. These remarkable little packages of food and flower are genetically programmed to put on a show with relatively little effort on your part. Get them planted at least several weeks before the ground freezes and you’ll ensure a beautiful spring show. If you’re a complete novice at the garden game and planting a bulb might as well be quantum physics to you, check out to learn the basics. If you’re already familiar, here are some tips and advice to minimize your efforts and maximize the bulbs’ potential.

• Adopt a naturalistic planting style. Dot bulbs in small clusters throughout the garden instead of planting them in large blocks. This way, you won’t have a large area of decaying foliage to wait out next year. Bulbs sprinkled throughout the garden will be quickly camouflaged as they die back by emerging perennials.

• Don’t plant bulbs in a spot that is constantly wet. They perform best in well-drained soil that isn’t too clayey or too sandy.

• Bulbs should be planted at a depth three times their height. Don’t cheat or your bulb may bloom only once or be pushed out of the ground when it freezes and then thaws in the spring. Another rule of thumb: when planting bulbs in a group, space bulbs about three times their width apart.

• For many years, sprinkling bone meal in the hole when planting bulbs was recommended as a fertilizer. The latest news from the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center suggests that bone meal may burn the newly established roots and encourage rodents (and even dogs) to dig up the bulbs because they’re attracted by its odor. You don’t even need fertilizer the first year. Apply a slow-release bulb fertilizer on the ground’s surface after they bloom next spring to boost bulb health and bloom in the future. That said, many bulbs will keep coming back again and again, and even multiply, even if you skip this step.

• Bulbs should be planted with the pointy end up. In some varieties, it’s hard to tell which end that is. When in doubt, it’s best to plant them on their sides and they’ll work it out themselves. Even bulbs that are planted upside down will manage to bloom, but it weakens them dramatically.

• To avoid deer devastation once the tender tasty foliage has emerged, don’t plant tulips a.k.a. “deer candy,” unless your garden is fenced or you don’t have a marauding deer issue (lucky you!). Plant allium, daffodil, Spanish or English bluebell, crocus, snowdrop and grape hyacinth. These are some of the beautiful bulbs that deer rarely — if ever — eat, according to the Cornell Cooperative Extension.

• In spring, resist the temptation to remove the fading foliage of spent bulbs. The “ripening” leaves create the food for the bulb to re-bloom next spring and to survive the winter. The leaves will yellow and wither and can be pulled about a month after flowering, except daffodils, which can take six weeks or more depending on weather. By July 4th, you can remove bulb foliage from the garden whether it is completely ripened or not.

Hit the local garden center to find a selection before they’re all gone, and plant on a clear day as soon as you can. It’s akin to making a deposit in your flower account in the fall and reaping the compounded interest come spring. You won’t regret it!

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Posted by Lisa Green on 10/24/16 at 10:32 AM • Permalink