Good things still come to those who wait. This is especially true of those who love tulips, daffodils and other spring-flowering bulbs. To bloom in spring, bulbs must be planted in fall when cool soil temperatures offer the right rooting conditions. The beginning of planting season ranges from late September in cooler climes, to late December in warmer areas. So how does a gardener know when it’s time to plant?
“The simple answer is that bulb planting season starts once your soil temperature reaches about 55 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Tim Schipper of Colorblends, a Connecticut-based flower bulb wholesaler that sells direct to land care professionals and home gardeners across the country. “The problem is, who knows what their soil temperature is?” he adds.
Schipper knows that nature provides other indicators that tell us when conditions are just right for bulb planting. To him, the easiest is: fall planting season begins when fall nighttime temperatures average between 40°F and 50°F.
He thought it might be fun – and useful to other gardeners – to ask his customers, many of whom are land care professionals, to share the “natural indicators” they use when gearing up to plant. He posed the question on his www.colorblends.com Web site, and set up a special email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Here are a few of their tips.
It’s time to plant bulbs when:
Fall foliage has moved just past peak,
Crickets no longer chirp,
Squirrels are digging in acorns as fast as they can,
Birds start to group and depart,
You start turning on the heat in your car,
The air smells of wood smoke,
Grapes are ripening on the vine,
You blow out the irrigation system before the winter freeze,
The hostas start to lie down,
The air has that organic, decaying leaf smell,
The dog moves from a cool to a sunny spot in the yard,
The kids start putting on their jackets without being nagged by you.
“Of course life doesn’t always go on schedule,” admits Schipper. “Though it’s not great to plant too early, you can usually get away with planting a bit late. Once soil temperature reaches the optimal level, you still have a six to eight week window to get bulbs in the ground before it freezes hard. So whether you forgot to order, or decide you want more, it’s generally not too late to buy and plant if you can still work the soil.”
Reputable flower bulb specialists like Colorblends ship bulbs when it’s time to plant in the recipient's area. Ideally, bulbs should be planted as soon as they arrive. If you can’t plant right away, store the bulbs in a cool, dry place with good air circulation. The ideal storage temperature is between 50°F and 60°F. That said, bulbs stored till planting at temperatures ranging from 35°F to 75°F should do well. Schipper says, “Be practical. If normal room temperature is the coolest you’ve got, that’s good enough. Just keep your bulbs out of direct sunlight.
“Bulbs are pretty forgiving, adds Schipper. “But they must be planted in the fall. They’re not seeds. Bulbs are alive and will not last unplanted until next year.”