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Fall Bulb Planting 101

Nothing is more satisfying than planting dormant brown bulbs in autumn and seeing them emerge in late winter or early spring with fresh green shoots and glowing flowers. In Colorado, where winters can seem everlasting, it gives us hope for spring to see delicate tulip and daffodils poking through those late winter snows. Planting bulbs in the fall is an investment in the future. You know your hard work will be rewarded in spring, when tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths burst into bloom. Planting bulbs for spring is easy, just follow a few simple steps!

Spring bulbs should be planted before the ground freezes and while bulbs are still firm and dormant. If you purchase bulbs in the fall but can't get them planted right away, store them in a refrigerator or some place where the temperature stays around 40°F (4°C). This will keep them dormant until you can plant.

In general, bulbs should be planted in sunny areas. Crocus, narcissus and hyacinth will also flower in partial shade. Like most plants, bulbs grow best in loose, fertile, well-drained soil. They will not tolerate soil that is soggy or compacted. You can improve soil structure and drainage by incorporating Soil Pep or compost. Before planting, loosen the soil a little deeper than the recommended planting depth so the bulb’s roots can grow freely.

As you are planting your spring blooming bulbs, make sure to check the packages since specific information about proper planting depth is printed on each one. In most cases, the size of the bulb determines how deeply it should be planted. Bulbs are usually planted 2-3 times deeper than their height. Planting bulbs a little deeper protects them from extreme cold and may also help protect them from nibbling rodents.

Most bulbs have a flattened bottom where the roots will grow, and a tapered top where the stem will emerge. When planting, the tapered end of the bulb should face up. If you can’t determine bottom from top, don’t worry. Bulbs are forgiving and will grow toward the light and warmth.

Spring bulbs look best when they are planted in odd numbers and irregular shapes. To plant a large area fast, dig out the soil from the planting bed and place it on a tarp. Position the bulbs and then gently replace the soil.

Bulb is used to define many plant forms such as corms, tubers, rhizomes, and tuberous roots. True bulbs contain next year’s plant where as corms, tubers, and rhizomes are actually modified stems.

Although there is mixed information about fertilizing newly planted bulbs, we have found that fertilized bulbs have more flowers and increased disease resistance. Put 1-2 tablespoons of fertilizer at the bottom of the hole before planting your bulb so that the fertilizer is accessible to the roots of the plant. A fertilizer, such as Espoma organic Bulb-tone that has high phosphorus and potassium is recommended. Bone Meal will also work, but keep in mind that it will attract rodents and squirrels to the area.

It is best to fertilize established bulbs in the early spring, ensuring that the plant has the nutrients it needs to flower and grow. Although the bulbs are using their own reserves for food, they are expending a lot of energy and will be pulling nutrients from the soil. We recommend you fertilize early rather than waiting until after the blooms have faded, because spring flowering bulbs have such a short growing season.

Forcing Bulbs

When forcing bulbs, you are “convincing “ them that they have spent the winter underground outside.

  • Use a shallow pot and well-drained soil.
  • Most bulbs can be used. Crocus are the best of the small bulbs.
  • Keep away slugs and other humidity loving pests.
  • Plant from Mid-September until Mid-February.
  • Plant just below the soil surface and water, no fertilizer is necessary.
  • Store pots on the north side of a building or in an unheated garage or shed with a consistent temp.
  • Indoors in the refrigerator is ok. The average temperature should be 40-50 degrees F.
  • Hyacinths and crocus take about 10 weeks.
  • At the end of their cold treatment, you should see roots coming out of the bottom of the pot.
  • Remove from cold treatment and place in a cool room (60 degrees F) and indirect light for 2-3 days; shoots should appear.
  • Move to a warmer room and full sun. It will take about 2 weeks for the blooms to appear.
  • Cooler temperatures after the buds appear will make the blossoms last longer.
  • Stagger planting for blooms all winter.
  • Bulbs can be planted outside in the spring after the danger of frost is gone but may not perform as well.
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