Spring blooms mean fall work. To greet winter's end with a colorful display, gardeners must think ahead, buy and plant some types of bulbs in September or October.
Fall bulbs include Kansas garden staples: the crocus, grape hyacinth, tulip and daffodil. Spring-flowering bulbs also can include some types of anemone, bluebell, glory-of-the-snow, Dutch hyacinth, snowdrop and buttercup-like winter aconite.
Varieties of each species are available. In the case of tulips and daffodils, the varieties are so numerous and so attractive the choices can seem overwhelming. In fact, the temptation always is to plant a few of everything. But with spring-flowering bulbs, 10 of one variety always looks better than one each of 10 varieties.
Shop for bulbs early, while the selection is good and quality is high. Plant the naturally small bulbs as soon as you can, to give them time to get established before winter.
This small group includes the daffodil -- which tends to be Kansas' spring-flowering bulb of choice. The daffodil is easy to grow, showy, long-lived and dependable. It increases rapidly and becomes large clumps that provide more and more bloom each year. It thrives in sun or in the part-shade of deciduous trees that leaf late. It can have long, short, wide and narrow trumpets and comes in various colors and combinations. A few varieties are double or ruffled.
For best bloom, daffodils should be divided every few years. Be sure to let their foliage remain while it ripens, feeding the bulb for next year. This foliage can be unsightly, but you can screen it by interplanting with another perennial, such as early daylilies. For appearance's sake you also can tie the leaves together with an elastic band.
Daffodils create spectacular strips of color. But they may be the easiest bulb to "naturalize" under trees, among shrubs, near an ornamental rock or stump, or along a fence. To make them seem a natural part of the landscape -- like a wildflower -- toss the bulbs onto the spot you have selected. Then plant them where they fall.
To let their leaves dry, you may have to mow around the plants for a few weeks after they have bloomed. But their springtime effect will be well worth this inconvenience.
Tulips run a close second as Kansans' favorite spring-blooming bulb. They can go in the ground anytime after the soil cools but before it freezes.
Tulips come in a range of brilliant colors. They can be stately or almost hug the ground. Like their spring-blooming kin, however, they must retain their ripening foliage after blooming.
Tulips also can be trickier to grow and typically aren't as long-lived as daffodils. Sometimes gardeners are disappointed with their tulip display. A major cause for unhappiness is bulbs that produce no blooms. This can happen the first spring after planting if bulbs (often sold as "bargains") are less than 3 inches around.
If bulbs don't bloom after the first year, the reason often is their planting depth. When planted 10 inches deep in well-worked fertile soil, most tulip varieties can rebloom for many years. When planted a more shallow 6 inches or less, however, tulips tend to spend their energies multiplying into lots and lots of bulbs that are simply too tiny to bloom.
The greater depth also provides more protection from heat injury. And it provides more cover, more protection from rodents such as field mice -- which love tulips.
Another major reason for gardeners' disappointment is their color choices and planting sites. Hundreds of tulips planted like a single row of soldiers along your driveway or many different colors of tulips planted together do not present bulbs at their best.
With tulips, be bold. Create masses, grouping tulips by color, whether in a border or more naturalized.
While planning for such displays, gardeners also must be preparing their soil. Bulbs like soil that has been worked to a depth of 8 to 12 inches and includes (by volume) about one-third compost, damp peat moss or a similar organic material.
For planting, they need soil that is damp but not wet. And they may appreciate an application of bone meal. But the vital time to feed and water bulbs will come next spring, while their foliage is growing.
-- The garden calendar is sponsored by K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County and provided this week by Dennis Bejot, county Extension director. For more information call the Master Gardener Hot Line, 843-7058, between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.