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By Trey Pitsenberger, co-owner Golden Gecko

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.

Tulips, daffodils, 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 are endless.

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.

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