To plant a daffodil or tulip bulb is to plant a promise of spring, even as snowflakes and cooler temperatures beckon all but the hardiest gardeners indoors.
If you have yet to plant spring-flowering bulbs in your garden, there are a few more weeks to complete the task. To stimulate flowering, the bulbs will need to be exposed to about 12 weeks of temperatures below 40 degrees, so they should be planted within the next few weeks for best results.
Crystal Miles, horticulture manager for Lawrence Parks and Recreation, says her staff is planting 13,800 spring-flowering bulbs this year to brighten Lawrence neighborhoods and right-of-ways.
Although this might sound like a lot of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, there will actually be more bulbs blooming around town because many that were planted in years past will grow again.
Unfortunately, many of the varieties of bulbs that are commonly available today do not survive for more than a few seasons. I think it's a trade-off for tall, strong stems and larger flowers. Plus, heavy clay soils hold moisture that promotes decay, bulbs are more prone to rotting in irrigated flowerbeds, and size and vigor of the bulb and flower diminish over time.
Lawrence city staff re-plant tulips in many of the same locations each year, re-using ones that survive the seasons. Daffodils, also known as narcissus, are typically re-planted on a three-year rotation in city flower beds.
Plant bulbs twice as deep in the soil as the bulbs are tall (unless instructed otherwise for the bulb species). That means if you are planting a 1-inch tall bulb, the top of it should be 2 inches below the ground surface. An additional 1 or 2 inches of mulch placed on the soil surface will reduce temperature and moisture fluctuations in the soil.
The two easiest ways to plant bulbs are to dig individual holes or to dig a trench at the proper depth and lay several bulbs in it, spaced 4-5 inches apart. Compost or other organic matter can be mixed into the soil at this time to improve drainage if you wish.
Fertilization is also important, and best results are obtained by following recommendations from soil nutrient testing. If phosphorus levels are high, use a fertilizer that contains primarily nitrogen (a high first number, like 27-3-3). If a soil test has determined that phosphorus levels are low, use a fertilizer with a high middle number, like 5-10-5.
Miles says the horticulture division is planting two varieties of daffodils this year: "Jetfire," which is yellow with an orange center, and "Exception," which is a classic yellow. My favorite daffodils in Lawrence grow in Veterans Park, on the northeast corner of the intersection of 19th and Louisiana streets. The afternoon sun warms the corner early in the season, making these trumpet-shaped yellow flowers some of the first to bloom each year.
"Pink Impression" tulips are also on my list of favorites. See them next spring in the right-of-way near the intersection of 15th and Connecticut streets.
Lawrence Parks' staff are also planting: Georgette tulips, a single-flowering, late-season variety available in either red and yellow; Color Spectacle, a red and yellow bi-color tulip that is also single-flowering and blooms late in the season; Red Riding Hood (bright red) and Royal Splendor (deep vermilion red), Greigii tulips, known for mottled foliage; Monte Carlo, a brilliant yellow, early-season, double-flowering tulip variety; and hyacinths.
Single and double flowering refers to one or two rows of petals in each flower.
Just remember, when the brightly colored blooms of tulips and daffodils stand tall above drab, winter-faded mulch and seemingly lifeless perennials and shrubs next spring, you will be glad you took the time to plant them in your garden this fall.