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It’s Bulb Planting Time

It’s Bulb Planting Time

By Therese Ciesinski, GardenSMART

November is prime bulb planting time in much of the country. Air temperatures are cooler, but still pleasant for the gardener. And while the soil is moist, the ground isn’t yet frozen. 

Spring flowering bulbs need a period of cold in order to flower, usually 12 to 14 weeks at temperatures below 40 degrees F. In most areas of the country, that means planting them outside in the fall. In warmer areas it means chilling the bulbs in a refrigerator for a period of weeks, or buying pre-chilled bulbs.

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Planting bulbs is almost goof-proof: Just dig a hole, and drop in a bulb. Even if the bulb is upside down, you can’t go wrong, because the flower stalk will grow upwards reaching towards the light.

Bulbs are usually planted in the soil at a depth two to three times the height of the bulb. The deeper the bulb is in the soil, the less susceptible it is to frost heaving or being dug up by animals. Large bulbs are generally planted 6-8” deep and small bulbs 3-5” deep. It’s always better to plant too deep than too shallow. Once bulbs are in the ground, they should receive a good watering.

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Facts About Spring Flowering Bulbs:

Bulbs most likely to be devoured by wildlife: Tulips, hands down. Everything finds them tasty: deer, rabbits, rodents, squirrels, chipmunks. Some prefer the bulb, others the leaves or flowers. Second and third place? Lilies and crocus.

Bulbs the deer take a pass on: Daffodils, alliums, snowdrops, hyacinths, grape hyacinths, glory-of-the-snow. Other wildlife finds them unpalatable, too. The chemicals in bulbs that deter deer can also be toxic to dogs, so keep unplanted bulbs away from pets.

Conditions most likely to kill a bulb: Wet soil, especially in summer. Bulbs need soil that is well-drained. Soil that stays wet will cause bulbs to rot. And most bulbs prefer full sun, especially in summer. Once they’ve bloomed, the leaves need sunlight to store energy for next year’s flowers.

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Bulbs that almost plant themselves: Daffodils, tulips, crocus and lilies have what are known as “contractile roots.” The bulbs actually pull themselves deeper into the soil, usually searching for moisture or more favorable growing conditions.

Bulbs that live the longest: Daffodils, alliums, snowdrops, crocus, glory-of-the-snow. By “longest,” we mean at least five years, though daffodils have been known to return for as long as 50 years. The shortest? Tulips, Dutch iris, ranunculus and some varieties of anemones often only shine their first year and never return.


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