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Plant flower bulbs right to avoid spring no-shows

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By Dean Fosdick
Associated Press
Published:
  • If your bulbs have been stored in a cold place and don't have brown or black spots, you can still get them in the ground for spring blooms.

    Dan Bates / The Herald

    If your bulbs have been stored in a cold place and don't have brown or black spots, you can still get them in the ground for spring blooms.

  • Using a trowel, bulbs are planted individually or in small clusters, with the small bulbs planted 5 inches deep and the larger bulbs 8 inches deep.

    Frederic Lagrange / Newcom

    Using a trowel, bulbs are planted individually or in small clusters, with the small bulbs planted 5 inches deep and the larger bulbs 8 inches deep.

  • RoozenGaarde's fields are bursting with blooms during the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in April.

    Dan Bates / The Herald

    RoozenGaarde's fields are bursting with blooms during the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in April.

Flower bulbs are a forgiving bunch. They can be buried upside down, stomped on or ignored, yet most will bloom for several seasons.
There are the occasional no-shows, of course: those that fail to flower and deliver the first burst of color in early spring.
One reason the bulbs don't bloom is if they're stuck in a garage, unplanted.
It's not too late, said Brent Roozen, a spokesman for Skagit Valley's Washington Bulb Co., the continent's largest tulip grower. The Mount Vernon company runs Tulips.com and Roozengaarde, one of the prime spots during the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.
"If you have the bulbs, it's not too late, Roozen said. "If you're going to buy the bulbs, it'll be too late."
Once the bulbs are planted, there still can be reasons why they don't bloom.
Bad bulbs: Even proven flower bulbs can go bad. "Give them the squeeze test," Roozen said. "If there are brown or black spots on them or they're soft to the touch, don't use them."
Poor timing: Spring-blooming bulbs need time to go dormant if they're to bloom. Planting dates vary with the climate but often extend into the winter. Just get them into the ground early enough so they can develop roots. If you haven't planted them yet, do it pronto.
Expired shelf life: "You can't carry them over (from season to season). The bulbs will dry," Roozen said. "When customers ask me about the best time for planting, I always tell them 'today.' "
Crowding: "Bulbs will grow, even if you don't give them enough shoulder room," Roozen said. "But in a few years, the flowers and the blooms will progressively get smaller."
Critters: "Tulips are the 'chocolate cake and ice cream' of the bulb world if there are voles or deer in the area," said Becky Heath, co-owner of Brent and Becky's Bulbs at Gloucester, Va. "We spray our tulips with a nasty-smelling substance to mask their sweet smell, and it really helps, but sometimes for only one year." Daffodils, leucojum, galanthus and colchiums are the bulbs to choose if you want something that no animal eats, she said.
Environment: "If bulbs are a failure because they fail to bloom year after year, it's probably because the gardener is in 'shade denial,' " Heath said. "There can be a lot of sun when the bulbs are in bloom, so that seems like enough sunlight. However, when photosynthesis happens after flowering time, which is crucial for the bulb to generate enough nutrients for the next seasons, the leaves are on the trees and there often isn't enough sunlight. Then the bulbs dwindle."
Herald Writer Jackson Holtz contributed to this report.
Learn more
For more about the care and feeding of flower bulbs, check out tulips.com.

Story tags » Gardening

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