It’s not easy to think ahead to spring at this time of year when autumn is barely starting. But if you want to get a dramatic display of spring blooms from bulbs in your garden come March, now is the time to plant.
Corms, tubers, bulbs and rhizomes all seem to be lumped together loosely under the term “bulbs” when gardeners talk about planting for spring. Even though each is a little different, the important factor is they are all remain underground.
October, November and early December are the months for planting bulbs in our region because the earth has cooled a bit. The soil temperature is what makes November the very best month for planting bulbs. This applies to all but tulips and hyacinths: Now is the time to chill them in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator for six to eight weeks before planting in late December and early January.
Choosing which bulbs to plant depends somewhat on your garden budget. Many bulbs bloom for one season in our climate, never to be seen again. If you are willing to pay for a dramatic one-time show, you may find it worth the expense. These one-shot wonders include tulips, hyacinths, anemones, ixia (wand flower), crocus, freesia and scilla.
But other bulbs will bloom again the next year and the year after, making their purchase a better long-term investment. These include narcissus, daffodils, jonquils, Dutch iris, Easter lily, spring starflower (Ipheion), snowflake (Leucojum), Louisiana irises and amaryllis.
Plant nurseries should have a good selection of bulbs right now, but there is always the option of ordering online. When ordering, be sure to confirm that the bulbs you desire will arrive no later than early December.
The drawback of ordering online is that you won’t get to see or examine each bulb before buying it to ensure that it is large, firm, plump and without soft spots — traits to evaluate should you buy from a local garden center.
Plant bulbs in well-drained soil in full to partial sun (depending on the bulb). Larger bulbs should be planted with the pointed end up at about 5 inches deep, or about twice their height. Smaller bulbs can be placed about 1 or 2 inches deep.
If your goal is to create an accent area in your garden, consider excavating the entire pocket and placing bulbs at the recommended distance apart before filling the area with soil. Overplanting with cool season annuals (such as pansies, alyssum and violas) keeps the area looking pretty while awaiting the big display from the bulbs beneath.
There is no need to fret over the prospect of light freeze damage once foliage appears, but blooms may be injured if temperatures drop too low. That’s why the LSU AgCenter suggests cutting the blooms and displaying them indoors if a killing freeze is imminent.
When blooms have finished, remove them to prevent the bulb from wasting energy by trying to develop a seed pod. The next step depends on what kind of bulb you have planted. If it’s a tulip, hyacinth or another that will bloom just one year in our climate, feel free to pull the bulbs up by the foliage and put them on the compost pile.
If not and you want your bulbs to bloom again next year, you will have to be patient and leave the foliage in place for six to eight weeks after the last bloom. Wait until the foliage is totally yellow before cutting, or else the bulb below ground won’t get the nourishment it needs to be able to bloom robustly the following spring. Some gardeners sprinkle time-release fertilizer on the soil around the bulb’s foliage to ensure proper nutrition.
Luckily for me, a White Flower Farm catalog arrived in my mail yesterday, so I have had the opportunity to admire heavenly photos of an array of spring flowering bulbs. Having never ordered before, I think I will start with snowflakes. How about you?
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about houses and gardens. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.