Archive for Monday, March 8, 1999


March 8, 1999


Too early to start thinking about next year's blooms? Think again.

Old ideas die hard, and maybe even more so for gardeners, but there is one new idea out there that will truly brighten your gardens for years to come. When should you fertilize spring-flowering bulbs? The answer is probably not what you think.

New research from Paul Nelson at North Carolina State University shows that the best time to fertilize spring bulbs is not after the flowers have bloomed, but instead when the first foliage pokes through the ground.

His research shows that the bulbs' roots start to die at the time of flowering and therefore fertilizing the plans at that time is essentially wasted. On the other hand, the roots are active when the foliage breaks through. The nutrients received then prepare the plants for flowering the following year.

If bulbs have been fertilized in the past, there is often plenty of phosphorus and potassium present in the soil. However, it is best to take a soil test to be sure. If the soil needs phosphorous and potassium, use of complete fertilizer (such as 10-10-10, 9-6-6, etc.) at the rate of 2.5 pounds per 100 square feet. This would equal 1 rounded teaspoon per square foot.

If phosphorous and potassium are not needed, blood meal makes an excellent fertilizer. It should be applied, wearing gloves, at the rate of 2 pounds per 100 square feet or 1 teaspoon per square foot. Turf fertilizers such as a 27-3-3 or a 30-3-3 can also be used, but the rate should be cut in third. The numbers 27-3-3 means the fertilizer has 27 parts nitrogen to 3 parts phosphorous to 3 parts potassium. These numbers are percentages. Turf fertilizers are usually high in nitrogen in relation to phosphorous and potassium.

One old idea that hasn't changed is to leave the plant's foliage on until it dies naturally. The energy in the foliage is transferred to the bulb as the foliage dies. This will help the bulb bloom the following year. When it comes to spring-flowering bulbs, how you treat them this year determines how they do next year.

-- The Garden Calendar is sponsored by K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County office and written this week by Master Gardener Bill Padgett. For more information call the extension office, 843-7058, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

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