Tulip Mix in May

By G. Bosley

Dreams of a beautiful spring garden full of Crocus, Tulips, Daffodils and Hyacinth?  Now is the time to start planning.  These bulbs have to be planted in the fall for blooms in the spring.  The bulbs are available in garden centres and on-line suppliers beginning in September.

These bulbs require soil with good drainage that is fairly open and loamy.  If the soil is poorly drained and moisture saturated in the winter or spring, the bulbs will likely rot and not develop into beautiful spring blooms.  Any average garden soil from light sandy loam to moderately heavy clay will work well.  if the soil has a high clay content it is best to put some sand in the bottom of the planting hole.  To lighten heavy clay soil add sand or organic matter.  To keep light sandy soil from drying out too quickly add leaf mold or manure.  Bulbs prefer a neutral to slightly alkaline soil, so if the soil is very acidic add lime to neutralize.

After flowering in the spring, these bulbs need to take up nutrients from the soil for the following year before the foliage dies back in the early summer.  When planting these bulbs in the fall they do not require extra nutrients for the upcoming spring growth, however, it is important that the soil has a supply of nutrients latter in the spring as the blooms are fading.  When planting bulbs add fertilizer high n phosphorous and potash, such as Bone Meal, and reapply a second application in the spring.  Supplementing the nutrients in the soil will allow the bulbs to continue blooming for many years to come.

When planning a spring garden select a variety of bulbs that bloom at varied times of the season to extend the length of bloom time in the garden.  As the snow begins to melt some of the earliest bulbs to bloom include Snowdrops, Eranthis, Crocus, Early Iris, Chionodoxa, Scilla and Muscari.  Daffodils, Anemones, Hyacinths and Fritillarias show their colours next.  Beginning in May the Tulips begin to bloom, and by selecting different varieties the blooms can continue for the whole month.  Late May will bring blooms of Hyacinthoides and Peonies.  Various varieties of Allium will bloom from May into June.  Lilium bulbs planted in the fall will bloom at varied times from late May through to September, depending on the variety.

Planting bulbs in groups of 3 or more bulbs of the same colour and variety throughout the garden will give a greater show and impact than planting a single bulb.  Each species of bulb has a specific planting depth required, ranging from 3″ for Muscari to 9″ for some Daffodils.  Some bulbs such a Crocus and Tulips are forgiving and if not planted at the proper depth they will move themselves to the perfect location.  Aside from planting bulbs at the proper depth it is just as important to space each bulb the proper distance from one another to allow room to grow.

After the bulbs have bloomed in the spring, allow the foliage to ripen and die before removing it from the garden.  This allows the bulbs to store nutrients for next years blooms.  Most spring bulbs can remain in the garden for many years, and do not need to be dug up and stored for the summer.  If after several years the blooms are becoming less, then the bulbs should be dug up and divided.

One of the biggest problems facing gardeners who plant spring flowering bulbs is the Squirrel, who without fail will almost always dig up your lovely bulbs.  When planting your bulbs place a barrier just under the soil surface such as screening , chicken wire or plastic mesh berry baskets to protect the bulbs.  Another option is to sprinkle Blood Meal in the planting hole and on the soil surface.  Narcissus and Daffodils are poisonous to squirrels so I like to plant these amongst all the other bulbs to keep the squirrels away.

When purchasing bulbs, buy the best.  It is a lot of work to plant the bulbs and very discouraging if the bulbs do not develop and bloom.  The size of the bulb does not mean a better quality or value.  Firmness, weight and general condition of the bulb are the determining factors when selecting your bulbs.  The layers or scales should be firmly joined, so there is no feeling of looseness or squashiness.  The flesh should be plump and firm.  Good bulbs are heavier.  If you select two bulbs of the same size and one is heavier, that is your best choice, inferior bulbs are lighter.  Check the condition of the skin, it should be smooth, bright and free of cuts or bruises.  check the disk at the base of the bulb, this is where the roots develop, if it is injured or shows signs of disease the bulb will probably rot.

If you haven’t planted your spring flowering bulbs yet, there is still time until the ground freezes.  Several years ago I was unable to get all the bulbs planted before the ground froze, so I stored them in a cardboard box in a dark, cool, dry location in the basement.  As soon as I could dig in the soil in the spring I was planting.  They bloomed that spring, although the blooms were small, but the show was fantastic the next season.

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