Archive for Sunday, November 15, 1998


November 15, 1998


Today the garden looks dull and dreary. The leaves have been matted down by the rain. The remnants of plants, annuals and perennials alike, have become broken and bent as their vigor rapidly fades. The few flowers that cling to life look strangely out of place in a world quickly becoming devoid of color.

Nothing will change for several months. Yet, for those of us not content to let it be, we can begin the process that promises a spring bursting with color. It is not too late to plant spring flowering bulbs since the ground has not frozen yet. But we need to get busy; time is running out.

Since bulbs contain a store of energy for use when they begin their growth, they must be planted at the correct depth to ensure healthy and vigorous plants. Planting them too deeply causes bulbs to use too much energy just pushing through the soil, leaving few reserves left for flower production. Placing them too shallowly will result in plants that have little stability in the ground. A rough guide for a planting spring bulbs is at a depth that is about three to five times its height and at a space of about two or three bulb widths apart.

Believe it or not, knowing the planting depth is not the most difficult part of planting bulbs. Knowing which end is up is-- that's the really hard part. One year, after I had planted about 30 tulips, I learned I had planted them the "wrong" way. Painstakingly, I dug them up and replanted them.

Generally speaking, the pointed end is usually the top. This is the end from which the plant stem and flower will emerge. The flattened part is the bottom, from which the roots grow, and should therefore, be placed down. Sometimes fine root hairs are visible along the flattened surface. If it is impossible to distinguish the top from the bottom, plant them on their side. They will make the adjustment. (I wish I had known that fact before I dug up and replanted all those tulips.)

The most common of spring flowering bulbs are the crocuses, tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. Each has its own unique uses in the spring garden and delights us for different reasons.

First color

The crocuses, for example, are usually the first to break through the ground, sometimes even before the snow has melted. Their sunny colors are a welcome sight after months of drab brown and dull gray. The bright colors of yellow, purple and white make the blooms seem larger than they really are, especially in contrast to the darkness around them.

Therefore, plant them in areas that you are likely to see from the house. If you have a kitchen window that looks out onto the garden, plant a handful of crocus bulbs so their unfolding beauty will be in full view when they bloom. Besides, gazing out at brightly blooming crocuses will make dishwashing chores more pleasant.

Crocus bulbs, technically they are corms, are small and firm. They should be planted about 3 to 4 inches deep in an area that will receive full sunlight. Even gardeners who have a lot of shade in the garden can successfully grow crocuses since the plants bloom before the trees leaf out.

Tulip truelove

Tulip bulbs are much larger than crocuses and offer a greater variety. More than 100 species of tulip are available. By carefully selecting different types of tulips, gardeners can extend the bloom time from early spring to nearly summer. To add even more diversity to the garden, plant tulips with differing flower shapes.

Though the single cup-shaped flower type is the best known, other shapes are becoming popular. Goblet shaped, fringed, doubled flowered and star shaped flowered tulips are popping up in increasing numbers in gardens every spring. Some tulips produce one flower per stem; others produce a cluster of flowers. No matter the simplicity or complexity of the flower, tulips are one of the most recognized of spring flowers.

Plant tulip bulbs about 8 inches deep. Bulb planting tools are available to make the job a bit easier. If you suffer with heavy soil in the garden, amend it with organic material to improve the drainage before planting tulip bulbs.

Herald of spring

What trumpets the arrival of spring better than daffodils? These cheerful flowers, as they are often described, seem to shout right from their flower heads that spring is upon us. Like tulips, daffodils need to be planted at a depth of about 8 inches in well-drained soil. They like sunlight and will need it after their flowers fade to re-establish energy in the bulb from the sun for the following year's growth.

The common yellow daffodils are joined by other varieties that are white, orange and pink. Often the colors are combined in one flower, with the petals and corona or cup of the flower being different colors. Daffodils look nice when planted in clusters. When the desired effect is one that appears more natural try an interesting planting method is called naturalizing. Gather a basketful of daffodil bulbs and toss them in the general area you plan to grow them. Then, plant each bulb where it has landed.

Seasonal perfume

Hyacinths are wonderful spring bulbs because they are so fragrant. Be sure to plant them near paths so their aroma can be enjoyed when you stroll by the area. They are usually planted to a depth of 4 to 6 inches and about 3 inches apart. They tend to have a stiff upright growing pattern. This tightly knit growth gives your garden an odd look if you skimp on the quantity. Therefore, plant enough bulbs to fill the space. Unlike the other bulbs, hyacinths can tolerate a bit more shade.

Although hyacinths are hardy through Kansas winters and classified as a perennial, they are considered to be short-lived bulbs. Unless well-protected during the winter and nourished, they tend to loose their vigor and may stop producing flowers within about three years. Nonetheless, they are worth the effort.

Get them ready for winter

All the spring flowering bulbs like a thorough watering when planted. A covering of mulch will help prevent the bulbs from damage by lowering the likelihood that the ground will heave during the sudden freezes and thaws of winter.

Although bulbs are hardy, a few pests may disturb well-laid plans for our spring garden. I have found tulips growing in the middle of a path or pushing up a bright flower as it squeezed in between a couple of rocks. Squirrels, do you think? Other pests known to be interested in bulbs include mice, voles, slugs, snails and aphids.

Be sure to purchase bulbs that are healthy and free of disease. Typically, the larger the bulb, the larger the flower expected. Yet, a large bulb does not necessarily mean it is healthy. Inspect them to ensure they are firm to the touch and have a firm growing tip. Since bulbs are sold in the dry state during their dormant period, it is natural for some of the outer skin to be dried. However, avoid bulbs that have a split core, damaged outer scales, holes in the bulb tissue and offsets that are too small to produce flowers.

Once home, take a walk around your garden, bucket of bulbs in hand, and start planting for a spring filled with blooms.

-- Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. You can send e-mail to her at

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