Each spring, and in some cases, late winter, I step out on a bright, sunny day and see narcissus (daffodils), crocus, snowdrops and other flowering bulbs blooming before all others, putting on a strong show of color. And each spring I think, "Wow, I need to plant some more of those." Well, as I look down the list of planting times for flowering bulbs I see most, if not all of them, want a fall planting. "Too late now," I say, and put this as a note to self for the fall. OK, note to self: It's fall.
Recent advertisements and a walk past the new displays at any garden center reminds me of this promise. All their graduation pictures are prominently displayed and their high availability obvious. Correctly so, as now is the time to plant new bulbs and cultivate or split the old.
"Flowering bulb" is a common term that may mean a true bulb, a corm, a tuber, a rhizome or a tuberous root. The difference is only applicable to the specific plant. For the most part care and feeding is identical. The term is loosely applied to any plant with a swollen or thickened storage organ from which the plant grows in its next cycle. Most of these will tolerate our winters and hot summers. Some, such as canna, tuberose, gladiolus, dahlia, begonia and caladium, must be removed from the ground and stored inside dark and dry at 4050 degrees until spring. Others benefit from a layer of mulch over winter, but most do fine by themselves.
I also like flowering bulbs because they tolerate - note I said tolerate - the soil here in Douglas County, without much preparation. They can do well in part shade or sun and usually prefer sun. Remember, they bloom early before the trees fully leaf, so even a summer shade area may be a target spot. Soil preparation will certainly help. Ideally they need a 12-inch deep soil bed with a lot of organic material like peat moss, aged bark and compost. The goal here is to loosen the soil so the plant can set roots and multiply for a strong bloom this year, and reproduce for the following years. These plants can last for many seasons, so it is best not to skimp on the soil preparation. (This is true for any planting). Incorporate fertilizer into the planting area using your soil analysis, or as a general rule, a complete fertilizer, 5-10-5, at the rate of the 3 pounds per 100 square feet. Each year they will need another feeding, and since we are generally blessed with plenty of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), only a high nitrogen (N) fertilizer is needed, such as a 27-3-3 or 30-3-3 at 2 pounds per 100 square feet or 1 teaspoon per square foot for small areas. Blood meal makes an excellent fertilizer at the same rate. Feed the bulbs just as they develop new leaves in the spring. After that, the feeding is not as effective.
What to plant? The list is long and varied. Narcissus (daffodils), crocus, snowdrops, hyacinths and my all-time favorite, iris. Bearded or not, the blooming iris is a spring showstopper. Experiment, talk to other gardeners, visit the garden centers, look at the well-prepared graduation pictures. You also might visit the Douglas County Extension Master Gardeners Fall Festival. The event is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, 2110 Harper St.
This free festival will include many demonstrations on the choice, planting and care of flowering bulbs.