Garden Notes: Now’s the time to plant bulbs for spring blooms

It’s bulb season! Sept. 15 to Nov. 30 is thought to be ideal planting weather for bulbs. Every greenhouse, nursery and grocery store has bulbs for sale, and the displays are positioned to catch your eye and spark your imagination.

Whether you’re buying on impulse or on purpose, it just takes a quick squeeze to check the bulbs for quality. If any bulb feels soft or looks moldy, get another bag. There’s no point in planting bad bulbs.

A spring flower’s appearance doesn’t depend on springtime weather; it depends on how the bulb was planted in the fall. When you plant, keep in mind the soil beneath the bulbs should be worked well to ensure good drainage. If moisture can’t drain through, the bulbs will rot.

We all plant our bulbs right side up, but sometimes they’re pushed sideways when the soil is replaced. That’s not a big deal. A bulb is a geotropism – the plant stems always grow opposite gravity. That can actually work to your advantage – it will cause those sideways bulbs to bloom a little later, and you’ll get a longer display of flowers.

Spring flowering bulbs have a growth cycle unlike other plants. They root in fall, bloom in spring, and then go dormant in early summer.

When they emerge in the spring, they begin to store energy to survive the next sleep-over. When they’ve put away all the vigor they need, the leaves turn brown and die back.

I’m always tempted to cut those elongated, still green daffodil leaves that refuse to brown and continue to hang on past the Fourth of July. It’s exasperating! Some gardeners give the leaves six weeks after bloom and then brown or not, they’re consigned to the compost pile.

It takes the same amount of effort to plant a bulb – no matter if it’s a large bulb or a small one. A bigger bulb will produce more flowers. Larger bulbs might cost more, but they’re actually more economical than small bulbs if you take into consideration the flowers the bulbs produce.

It’s easy to forget where your bulbs are planted, especially if you’ve been buying “just one bag” of bulbs every fall. One way to remember where they are is to surround them with a circle of grape hyacinth bulbs. Grape hyacinth leaves appear in the fall, so if you see circles of narrow, bluish green leaves, you’ll know there are bulbs planted in the center.

Bulb planters and bulb augers come in all sizes. They look handy and are painted in strong earthy colors, somehow implying they will make your job effortless. Don’t be fooled. Gardeners with large areas to plant often use a power drill with a bulb planter attachment.

The roots of trees and bushes can make the earth almost impenetrable. I’ve been trying to plant 100 daffodils in the woods behind the house. So far I’ve learned that a pick ax will work if swearing and power tools won’t.

Contact Teresa Futrick at esroyllek@hotmail.com.