You have to wonder about spring bulbs. Sometimes it seems that they lack good sense. You go out on mornings like we’ve had the past few days and you see the tulips, daffodils and hyacinths with their heads hanging down due to the weight of the snow. You wonder if they will ever be the same again. Then the snow melts off, and low and behold, there the flowers are bobbing their heads in the spring air as though nothing happened. You’ve got to give it to them — they are tough.
In fact, they like the cool air. Cut them and bring them indoors to our warm houses and they don’t last long at all. Even left on the plants they put on their color show longer in colder weather than they do in very warm weather.
Therein lies the problem. Hyacinths, tulips, daffodils, crocuses and other spring bulbs are spectacular while they are blooming. But the blooms are short-lived, and after they finish, the greenery remains for some time, declining gradually. You can pluck it off early, but at the detriment of next year’s bulbs. The bulbs need that greenery for photosynthesis to provide the sugars they need to replenish them and make bigger bulbs for next year.
You do have options. You can interplant the summer annuals through them, ignore them and let them die back on their own. Or if the look of the leaves as they turn brown and dry up bothers you, you can fold them down, put an elastic around them, and leave them in place.
You can dig them when you are ready to plant your summer annuals leaving the greenery on and put them in crates or boxes and let them finish dying down in a shady place. Even better, “heel” them into a trench in a cool, shady place covering only the bulbs with soil and leave them until they die back. Replant them properly in the fall. This is not as good as leaving them in place until they die back, but it is a better alternative than clipping the tops off.
Ideally, after the tops finish dying back, you should dig the bulbs, put them in a cool, dry place for the summer and re-plant them in the fall. Some experts complain that lifting and re-planting is too much bother for the expected results.
However, most bulbs decline over years of growing in the same place. If you want to grow bulbs to enjoy in the same place for many years, look for tulips with natural propensity for a repeat performance. Botanical or species varieties and their hybridized strains are excellent garden performers and sometimes will even naturalize.
Some suggested perennial strains include Charles, Christmas Marvel and the red Couleur Cardinal. Triumph tulips such as Don Quichotte and lilyflowered Alladdin and Ballade should be good for more than one season.
Perennialize or naturalize tulips by planting them about eight inches deep and choose a well-drained spot in the yard.
Each bulb produces more bulbs and eventually, you do need to dig the bulbs and divide them. Do not be discouraged if the flowers become smaller after the first year. That is typical for spring bulbs. The growers do not leave the flowers on the bulbs in the fields to force all the energy to the bulbs and give them special conditions to encourage large bulbs (which produce large flowers) to sell.
A cool spring season will promote longer color, but of course, you have no control at all over that. Follow several steps to encourage longer color. It is too late for some of them this year, but keep them in mind for next year’s flowers.
Plant several varieties of each bulb. Early season, midseason and late season tulips each display a new batch of color as the one before it fades, inserting more color among the old plants.
Plant several types of bulbs
There are lots of different flowers on the market. Each has it’s own growth habit and time schedule. Try hyacinth, tulip, crocus, Dutch iris, narcissus (daffodil) and allium. There are many others, too.
Plant the bulbs the day you bring them from the store. Ideally they should go in during late September or early October to allow the bulb to develop a strong root system and meet the chilling requirement.
If you somehow find yourself with bulbs tucked away in the garage now, plant them anyway. You will probably not get blossoms that amount to much this year, but you might be able to save the bulbs to bloom next spring. You will definitely not be able to save the bulbs over to next year in the bag.
Apply fertilizer as foliage emerges in the spring. Watch for the leaves to emerge from the soil, and add fertilizer then. You are not making any difference in this year’s flowers, but it does allow plenty of time to encourage large healthy bulb development for next year.
If you’re a bit absent minded, try this tip: Write down the location of the bulbs on your October calendar (around Oct. 15) so you can find and plant them.
Interplant biennials such as pansies, wall flowers, and others among the bulbs in the fall. They will winter over to provide part of the early spring color show. They will outlast the spring bulbs possibly carrying over until the annuals begin to become established.
Many perennial plants
color up at different times in the spring season and can also provide color during the transition period from spring to summer annuals.
Care for your spring flowering garden properly and you will enjoy the delights of the first spring flowers for as long as possible and work ahead for next year’s planning and planting.