Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Planting Bulbs in the Fall

As September draws to a close, most of us are turning our minds away from the idea of gardening and are resigned to the fact that we won't be thinking green until warm weather rolls around again. But wait- don't put away the trowels and fertilizer just yet. The fact is, there's still another month left before your gardening duties are done. Fall is the perfect time to plant spring-blooming flower bulbs so that they'll bloom beautifully just when the weather begins to warm again.

Any seasoned gardener will tell you that now is the time to be planting some of the most beautiful flowers that nature has to offer. In fact, many flower buffs love this time of year because it gives them a chance to fill their gardens with spring-blooming flowers to be enjoyed next year. Some flowers that are designed for fall planting include daffodils, narcissus, tulips, crocus and snowdrops.

If you're new to the idea of fall bulb planting and you're wondering how to get started, the information here will help.

Most stores and plant nurseries put their fall-planting bulbs on display weeks in advance- usually in mid to late August, when it's truthfully much too hot to begin fall planting. While the ideal time for planting bulbs varies greatly by area, there are a few basic rules you can follow to help determine the correct time for you to plant in your state. The bulbs will need to be placed in soil that is around 60 degrees Farenheit six inches under the ground, so you'll need to do a little research to find out when that time will be in your particular climate. Generally speaking, cooler states should plant in September while gardeners in warm states can often wait until the end of December. Ask the employees at your local nursery for a recommended planting date in your area for the greatest chance of success.

If you do miss your recommended planting date, your bulbs can still be put into the ground- as long as the soil is not frozen solid. Do keep in mind that if you plant bulbs late, they will take longer to bloom and may not produce as many flowers or grow as tall as expected.

When buying bulbs for fall planting, choose carefully. The bulbs need to be in good shape so that you're sure to get a successful crop of flowers next year. Avoid bulbs that are shedding "dust" or that look especially dried out and tired, or those that show signs of mold. This can mean that it's an old bulb... and dust can even be a sign that the bulb has insects living inside it. You should also take care to avoid bulbs that have large stems already growing out of them; a small sprout is okay, but large stems aren't supposed to appear until spring, and planting bulbs such as these will result in a weaker plant (or none at all). Remember too that larger bulbs produce larger flowers, so pick your bulbs according to the size of flowers you're trying to grow.

Finally, don't forget that bulbs should be firm to the touch- squeeze them gently and make sure that you're not leaving a thumb print in the bulb when you do so. Bulbs that are too soft have already started to decay and will rot in the ground once planted.

Once you've selected your bulbs and the proper planting time has rolled around, it's time to get your hands dirty. Plant fall bulbs in loosely aerated soil- try turning over the flower bed with a pitchfork before you begin. Once the soil is ready, you can simply start planting. For best results, plant each bulb individually with the pointed end up. Bury each one three to four times deeper than its own height. As a general rule, keep three to six inches between bulbs, depending on their size. The larger the bulb, the more space it will need around it.

Cover the bulbs with a light layer of mulch once you've planted- this will help keep them warm as well as protect the soil from weeds in the coming months and in the early spring. You should also water the bulbs lightly to help start root production. Add fertilizer if you so desire.

As the winter months set in, the bulbs will have plenty of time to develop strong roots, and the period of cold months to come will provide the bulbs with the time they need to complete the biochemical processes required for flowering. With a little luck and attention to detail, you'll be rewarded in the springtime with the first- and healthiest- flowers of the season.
-by bjp

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