Planting fall bulbs now for spring flowers is one of life’s greatest rewards. It doesn’t provide instant gratification, but instead, offers the promise of a burst of color when we need it most — after a long, dreary winter.
It’s hard to even imagine next spring, with the holidays approaching and a full Michigan winter ahead. But if you want to enjoy a colorful spring garden in 2013, the time to begin planning for it is now.
“You can plant right now until the ground freezes, about in mid-November,” said local gardening expert Carol McAlister, of Yard ‘N Garden in Fenton. “Bulbs have to go through a cooling off process, which is why we plant them in the fall in a cold weather climate like Michigan.”
While McAlister is very knowledgeable about bulbs, she doesn’t carry bulbs for sale at Yard ‘N Garden because of the huge volume and variety required. Other greenhouses, like Carlson’s Greenhouse in Fenton, don’t carry them because the humidity in their greenhouses is hard on seeds and bulbs.
Larger garden centers like The Home Depot do carry a limited variety, but the majority of bulbs are found through mail-order or online garden companies.
The most important aspect of choosing bulbs is to buy the highest quality ones you can find. They are graded 1-2-3, with #1 grade being the most mature, promising big beautiful flowers next spring. Grade #2 may take another year for the flowers to blossom, and #3 are small, and may take two to three years to flower, according to McAlister.
Look for plump, firm bulbs that aren’t dry or withered, spongy or moldy. “Choose a bulb that feels firm, but has a little ‘give,’” said McAlister. “The bulb should be golden brown, not black, and it should smell clean.” In general, the larger the bulb for its type, the more flowers.
Choose bulbs that are suited to your area, and make sure that your soil is a rich, well-draining soil with a balanced pH that will feed the underground bulb and fuel the spring growth and flowers.
Here are a few other bulb-planting tips:
1. Most bulbs prefer full sun, but fall shade is fine for many varieties. Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Dog’s Tooth Violets, Snowdrops and Trillium all prefer a bit of cool shade.
2. Plant before mid-November so that the bulbs will have a chance to begin growing roots and establishing themselves.
3. Plant with the pointed side up. The pointed end is the stem. You may even be able to see some shriveled roots on the flatter side. If you’re not really sure, don’t worry, because the plant will find its way up, but you can avoid stressing that plant if you plant it “point side up.”
4. When planting tulip bulbs, McAlister suggests planting them 8 to 10 inches deep. Planting them at the proper depth will result in a big flower year after year, she said. The general rule of thumb for bulbs is to plant them to a depth of about 3 times their diameter. For daffodils, that’s about 6 - 8 inches.
5. Mix some bone meal or superphosphate into the soil at the bottom of the hole at planting time, to encourage strong root growth.
6. If rodents tend to eat your bulbs, you can try sprinkling some red pepper in the planting hole. A more secure method is to plant your bulbs in a cage made of hardware cloth. The roots and stems grow through, but the rodents can’t get to the bulbs. Make it easy on yourself and make a cage large enough to plant at least a dozen bulbs. Or you can make it really easy on yourself and stick to daffodils, which rodents and most other animals avoid.
7. Replace the soil on top of the bulbs. Water the bulbs after planting.