By Trey Pitsenberger, co-owner
When bulbs start arriving at garden
centers you begin to realize summer will soon be coming
to an end. While there are many warm days to come, the
inevitable changing of the seasons has brought the realization
that it is once again it time to delve into the world
of the bulb, and its relatives, the corm, tuber, rhizome,
and tuberous root.
crocus, iris, lily, dahlia, and daylily all grow from
underground plant structures commonly called bulbs.
Tulip and daffodil flowers are produced from what is
called a ‘true bulb’.
A true bulb is an underground stem base that contains
an embryonic plant complete with leaves, stems, and flower
buds, ready to grow each year. Iris flowers grow from
what is called a rhizome. A rhizome is a thickened stem
growing partial below the surface of the ground. Roots
grow directly from its underside. These terms are just
used to describe botanical differences between flowering
plants. You don’t need to understand these terms
to enjoy bulbs. Simply realize that it’s the start
of bulb season and you can buy these underground plant
structures now thru early spring.
There are two main bulb seasons. Spring
bulbs and summer bulbs. The spring bulbs include tulips,
daffodils, hyacinths, crocus, freesia, and muscari. These
are the type of bulbs available now thru mid-winter.
They are planted in fall and winter for bloom in the
spring, hence why they are called spring bulbs. In January
these bulbs will be sold out and the summer bulbs will
arrive. These summer bloomers include, iris, begonia,
and dahlia. They are available for purchase from mid-winter
thru early spring.
When you buy bulbs
they are either sold in packages or in bulk. Bulk means
you buy individual bulbs, and place them in a bag for
transport. Packages are already made up of a certain
quantity of bulbs pre-packaged. Bulk bulbs are usually
a little larger, and a little less expensive that pre-packaged
bulbs. When picking out bulbs it’s good to look for firm, plump ones
that are not squishy. Squishy bulbs are bad and won’t
grow. The bigger the bulb, the more impressive the flowers
show. When buying a bulb like daffodils you might find
the same variety at different sizes and price. The smaller
bulbs are less expensive, but you will have to wait a
couple of years longer for them to build up enough energy
and size to produce the flower show the larger bulb will
produce this year. Mass plantings lend themselves to
the smaller, less expensive bulbs, while container plantings
should use the larger bulbs for a bigger show come spring.
Plant your bulbs in ground that has
been amended with one to three inches of organic amendment.
Mix a pre-plant fertilizer in also. Dig or till this
into the soil, rake the soil smooth, and you are ready
to plant. Plant the bulb three times as deep as the bulb
is wide. Most bulbs can be set quite close together to
provide a mass of bloom. When you are finished planting
water them in thoroughly.
Since the bulbs
won’t bloom till
spring you can cover the ground over the bulbs with winter
annual flowers to provide interest through the cold months
till the bulbs bloom in spring. This ‘double decking’ is
a great way to hide the bare ground while the bulbs lie
dormant. Pansies, snapdragons, violas, and dianthus are
examples of cool season flowers that can be planted right
over the bulbs. When the bulbs start coming up in spring
they will pop right through the still blooming annuals
providing a fantastic show of color in spring. Yellow
daffodils, and blue and white pansies look great together.
The combinations you could come up with for double decking
Bulbs are great for the beginning gardener
as they are easy to grow and nearly foolproof. While
bulbs will be available thru the cool season, the best
selection for spring bulbs is during September and early
October, while the summer bulbs should be bought in January.