Plant bulbs now for color in the spring

  • By Debra Smith Special to The Herald
  • Tuesday, November 12, 2013 5:03pm
  • Life

Come January, many of us are longing for that first green shoot, that first pop of color that means spring. You can ensure that happens by spending a little time now planting bulbs.

Certainly, bulbs of all types can find a home in almost any part of the garden. Consider planting a container full for a compact, easy to manage show of spring color.

Master gardener Frankie Dennison loves the versatility and color bulbs add to her own Kenmore yard. She also has found planting bulbs in containers cuts down on problems, such as squirrels looking for a snack and clay soil that doesn’t drain well.

She can layer different types of bulbs in the pot so flowers are emerging all spring. When the show is done, she can drag the container under a sheltered spot for the summer so bulbs don’t get over-watered.

Expect the container of bulbs to last about three years. Then the bulbs should be dug up and the bulbettes removed. Here are her tips:

Choose a big enough container. She likes pots about 15- to 18-inches tall and at least 15-inches across.

The pot needs to be large enough to handle a good amount of soil and several dozen bulbs. She prefers a neutral color that won’t clash with the blooms. The pot needs drainage holes at the bottom.

Think about color and blooming time when selecting bulbs. Bulbs are labeled as early, mid and late season. Get some of each. Think about how bulbs from each bloom time will look with each other.

Remember, too, that some bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and snow drops should be planted in fall because these bulbs need a few months of cold to bloom. Other types of bulbs, such as lilies, can be planted in the spring.

Skip the crockery. Experts used to advise gardeners to line the bottom of their containers with chards of old pottery, gravel and the like to help drainage. That practice actually impedes drainage.

It is OK to put small, black plastic nursery containers at the bottom to fill up space in a particularly large pot, she said. Water is able to move around these.

Use potting soil. Place a good quality potting soil at the bottom of the pot. Dirt straight from the garden is too heavy. If you’re planting directly in the garden, choose a spot with good drainage. Bulbs planted in heavy, clay soil will rot.

Don’t forget to fertilize. Bulbs need a good, all-purpose organic fertilizer to perform well year-after-year. Sprinkle some near the bottom of the pot and mix in the soil.

Add liquid fertilizer to the leaves when they emerge in the spring. Avoid fertilizers high in nitrogen, which promotes leaf growth.

Layer bulbs by size, not bloom time. Bigger bulbs need to be planted deeper. The rule of thumb is plant a bulb three times its height. The pointy end of the bulb goes up.

Cover each layer of bulbs with a few inches of soil. She tries to offset one layer from the next, but the blooms seem to manage to find their way to the surface.

Top the container. Dennison adds some colorful winter pansies to keep the container interesting while waiting for those first shoots to push through in spring. She also buries some broken crockery around the top of the pot as a critter deterrent. They don’t like to step on anything sharp.

Don’t cut back the leaves too quickly in the spring. Once the blooms are finished, don’t cut back the leaves for at least six weeks. This allows the bulb to gather and store the energy it needs for subsequent years.

Some gardeners like to tidy up by tying up the greens. That impedes the energy storing process and should be avoided.

Frankie’s favorites

For pots

Early: dwarf iris, Tete a Tete daffodils, anemone, species tulips.

Mid to late: King Alfred daffodils, Emperor tulips.

Late: fringed tulips, parrot tulips, double daffodils.

For yard (reliably hardy and critters don’t bother them)

Snow drops, muscari (grape hyacinth), cammasia (wild hyacinth), trillium.

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