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Fall / Autumn Bulb Planting

Flowers blooming in spring from bare little bulbs planted in the autumn, has got to be one of the all-time great miracles of nature. Hold a few daffodil, tulip, and crocus bulbs in your hand, and you’d be hard-pressed to convince anyone that these rock-like balls have the power to deliver a profusion of color just from some sunlight and water.

But indeed, they will do just that, if properly planted in the fall and cared for in the spring.

If you’re not familiar with gardening, it will help to think of the first way of dividing plants and flowers: annuals and perennials. Annuals are flowers that bloom only once; their whole lifetime lasts just one growing season. One example is pansies. You go to the nursery or the hardware store in spring, buy some plants already blooming, plant them in your garden or window box, and they die in the fall, never to return.

Perennials, on the other hand, keep coming back year after year; they don’t die each fall, they just go dormant until the weather warms again.

Flowers from bulbs are perennials; plant some bulbs this fall, and chances are they’ll provide you with blooms year after year. When you see a garden with a clump of iris or tulips or daffodils that is bushy and thick with flowers, you know those bulbs were probably planted years ago, as often the flowers multiply over the years.

So, before you start planting bulbs, make sure you’ve got the right spot marked out; these will be in your garden for some time to come – unless of course you dig them up and move them.

TIP:    In choosing the spot for planting bulbs, take into account the spring sun; in spring, the sun won’t be obscured by the leaves of your trees, but it will be weaker than in the summer and lower to the horizon. Also consider the proximity to the house or other buildings, and plant the bulbs at least 5 feet from foundations, as heat from the buildings can damage bulbs. Make sure the soil is well-drained; it should have a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.

After you dig the holes for the bulbs, add fertilizer before replacing soil. Add plenty of water as you fill the hole back in. Mix in organic material too. Check with the nursery where you buy the bulbs about how deep and how far apart they should be planted, but as a rule of thumb, you can plant large bulbs 8 inches deep, and 6 inches apart and small bulbs 5 inches deep, 3 inches apart with all pointed ends up. Add 3 inches of mulch to retain moisture and protect the bulbs.

 When you’re choosing the bulbs, think too about color and size of the blooms; there should be photos of the flowers next to the bin of bulbs. For the most part, smaller bulbs produce flowers that bloom earlier in the spring, and the flowers are small, like snow-on-the-mountain or crocus. The larger bulbs, such as tulips, bloom later and produce larger blooms. Make sure the bulbs are firm, clean, and free of mold.

The best time to plant is after the first frost, so the bulbs will stay cool throughout the fall and winter. What this means in terms of the calendar depends in large part on where you live, so check with your nursery about what the schedule for your area is. The first bulbs to plant, in any zone, will be the daffodils, some of the hyacinths, and camassia; next come the tulips, crocus, snowdrops, and iris, and finally the paperwhite narcissus and amaryllis.

While we’re on the topic of planting bulbs, don’t forget that you can add a splash of lively color to your home by planting bulbs indoors. The most popular candidates for this are paperwhite narcissus, perhaps because all they need is water and sunlight – no dirt is required.

Growing bulbs indoors in the winter is known as “forcing” them, as you’re forcing them to bloom inside the house before their time, by tricking them into thinking it’s spring.

The beauty of using the narcissus bulb is that after starting, you’ll have blooms in about four weeks. These are the most fragrant of the daffodil family, with a distinctive sweet smell; if you don't like the scent of these flowers, forget it, because the scent will permeate the room.

 Just set the bulbs in a shallow dish with some pebbles, which can be bought at a garden store, or even some nicely-colored marbles. Let the bulbs stand, flat side down, in the pebbles, so the pebbles cover about half the bulb. Add a little water, put in a sunny window, and you'll start seeing green shoots after a couple of days.

To tend to the bulbs, keep adding a little water every day; don’t over water them, or they'll rot. But make sure to keep the bulbs moist.

Because paperwhites grow to between 12 and 18 inches high, you should stake them when they're about six inches high, so they don't flop over.

The flowers last for about two months. So if you start them growing in early December, the blossoms should last you well past the darkest days of winter – just in time to start looking for the first snow-on-the-mountain and crocus to come up in your garden.

Copyright 2002 Sheffield School of Interior Design –Sarah Van Arsdale


More information on planting in the Autumn / Fall to produce blossoms and colour in Spring




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