Spring bulbs need fall planting

  • Grape hyacinths, otherwise known as muscar. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Daffodils in late April. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

For the Recorder
Published: 9/8/2020 9:30:58 AM

September has arrived. If we want blooming flowers early in the spring, it is time to plant bulbs. Gardeners always have to think ahead.

I love bulbs because they give us color and hope early in the spring. Since we moved to Greenfield, I have planted some bulbs. Purple and golden crocuses bloom in March under the lilac tree. I think I should add at least a few more. My snowdrops also bloom in March. Many daffodil varieties bloom along the sidewalk in April. Grape hyacinths bloom in mid-March well through April under the river birch.

I love the grape hyacinths but I have learned a lot about them that gardeners have to think about. After the first year my grape hyacinths bloomed, the foliage died after the blossoms did. The following spring, the grape hyacinths bloomed and again the flowers and foliage died and left an empty spot. However, in the fall, I noticed some greenery growing up in that space. I was too busy to weed it at the time, but soon there was too much of that greenery and I started to pull it up — and found little bulbs attached to the foliage. Grape hyacinth bulbs were growing all over the place including into the nearby daylilies. This could not continue.

I dug up some of those bulbs and foliage and gave them away. I later learned that I should not have been surprised. Information in the catalogs does give information about them naturalizing and sending up foliage in the fall. My lesson — pay attention to all the information in the catalogs.

There are many other bulb plants that bloom in the spring including tulips, which many people consider annual flowers because they often die out after a year or two. Alliums, ornamental onions, range from giant globes to pendulous explosions of bloom in late spring and into summer. Fritillaries can be dwarf with delicate nodding blossoms or 2-foot-tall, large and dramatic flowers that bloom in late spring.

This fall, I am thinking about planting more daffodils. Instead of the patches of different varieties growing next to the sidewalk, I am thinking about a single variety that will form a ribbon of bloom in front of the new rose bed. I want to choose an early bloomer that will be finished before the roses begin to bloom in mid-June.

I am considering the 10-inch-tall Wisley with slightly reflexed white petals and frilly yellow cups that blooms in early to mid-spring. Having chosen this daff, I think I will add some Eranthus, winter aconite. This buttercup relative produces 3-to 4-inch lemony yellow blossoms above flat green foliage. The name winter aconite does give an idea of when it might bloom.

Choosing bulbs is one thing. The next thing is calculating when and how to plant the bulbs when they arrive — and it is time right now to order.

I looked back at dated photos I took of daffodils, grape hyacinths and crocuses. Crocus bloom in March, and daffodils and grape hyacinths bloom in April and well into May depending on the variety.

The advice is to plant six weeks before a hard frost. We have had snowy Thanksgiving celebrations, so I am calculating six weeks back from Nov. 26 this year. I plan to put my bulbs in the ground around Oct. 17.

Spring bulbs are best planted in groups. I dig a hole that can hold several bulbs. I make the hole bigger and deeper than necessary because I take the opportunity to enrich the soil with compost, and maybe a bit of 10-10-10 fertilizer before it goes back into the hole.

Daffodil bulbs, and other bulbs of the 2-or 3-inch size, should be planted so that two inches of soil will be over the bulb. For instance, a 2-inch long bulb should be planted 4 inches deep, and a 3-inch long bulb should be planted 5 inches deep. Daffodils should be planted 5 or 6 inches apart. Remember the pointy tip is the top of the bulb.

The circular grape hyacinth bulbs are similar in size and should all be planted three inches deep and 3 inches apart.

Crocus should be planted 2 inches deep and 3 inches apart.

I mix the soil that I took out of the hole mixed with compost and cover the bulbs. Watering the planted bulbs immediately is very important. Watering will wake up the bulbs and start them growing. Keep watering them until there is rain. In the spring you will have warming color and encouragement as spring begins.

An assortment of spring-blooming bulbs will be available at the Greenfield Farmers Cooperative. Online companies including: Brent and Becky’s, brentandbeckysbulbs.com; John Scheepers, johnscheepers.com; and Old House Gardens, which specializes in heirloom bulbs, oldhousegardens.com.

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her website, commonweeder.com.

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