FALL PLANTING OF FLOWERING BULBS
Planting spring bulbs in the fall is as natural as autumn leaves
and football games. Not including some hardy, easy-to-grow spring
beauties during fall plant is a missed opportunity. Bulbs are
truly some of the simplest of flowers to grow. They are also easy
to care for and inexpensive. All they ask is to be planted in
the fall, and, in return, they will reward you with weeks of early
spring color, fragrance and beauty.
Success with spring bulbs will depend largely on
the selection of good, healthy, quality bulbs. Second-rate or
bargain-priced bulbs will produce second-rate flowers and often,
Generally, good bulbs produce flowers the first
season after planting, as the flower buds are already formed at
the time the bulbs are purchased and planted. This emphasizes
the importance of buying quality bulbs. The quality of flower
is determined by the quality of bulbs, even more than by cultural
conditions or growing techniques. You can be assured that the
larger the bulb, the larger the bloom. Many disease problems also
can be eliminated simply by obtaining healthy, disease-free bulbs.
Spring flowering bulbs are not fussy about soil.
They will grow in sandy or clay soil, as long as the soil drains
well. If the soil is heavy, improve it by mixing in sand or peat
moss to a depth of about 1 foot. Waterlogged bulbs rot, especially
when dormant. Rich soil is unnecessary because bulbs contain the
food they need to produce foliage and flowers in the spring.
Bulbs are also forgiving when it comes to light.
A spring bulb garden can be planted in either sun or shade. Since
the flowers appear early in the season, they have often matured
by the time trees leaf out and shade the garden.
Some other tips:
-Plant daffodils and hyacinths 6 inches deep and
6 inches apart.
(One note: many people will start itching after handling hyacinth
bulbs. This is a reaction to a chemical compound on the outside
of the bulbs. Wetting the bulb before planting reduces this effect.)
-Set the bulbs firmly in place with their pointed
ends up. Then, water
liberally. Water again if a prolonged dry spell occurs during
-For best effect, plant bulbs in clusters of 12
or more. Space these clusters throughout the garden among shrubs,
along walks or around trees.
-Avoid bulbs with blue or green mold spots. This
is penicillium mold. It can severely damage hyacinth and tulip
-Remove the seed pods after the flower is spent,
but leave the stem and leaves. Allow them to turn yellow. They
continue to produce carbohydrates that will strengthen the bulb.
-If the soil is heavy, use a sand mixture to back-fill
over the bulbs.
-Care should be taken if blood meal or bone meal
is used around bulbs in neighborhoods where there are a lot of
pet dogs. The dogs are attracted to both substances.
Be aware that, out of their native, colder climates,
not all varieties grow well in the South. Yet, there are plenty
of varieties that will be successful. Choose from daffodils or
Narcissus, crocus, grape hyacinths, Dutch iris, ranunculus and
Some people believe that, of all the bulbs, ranunculus
and anemones offer the most bloom for the money. In 1983 to 1985,
horticulturist Don Pylant conducted bulb tests while he was on
the staff of the San Antonio Botanical Garden. His tests provide
an insight about the varieties that might naturalize (bloom year
after year) in this part of Texas. His results concluded that
the best of the daffodils were HFortune, February Gold, Ice Follies,
King Alfred and Texas (a double-flowered type). The best crocus
varieties were Blue Pearl, Snow Bunting, Cream Beauty and Flavius
Yellow. The best hyacinths were Carnegie and Delft Blue. Other
winning, naturalizing bulbs were Muscari Armeniacum, St. Bravo
anemone, Tritelia uniflora, Bletilla (a hardy orchid) and Byzantine
For more information about naturalizing bulbs,
Some spring-flowering bulbs should not be planted this late in
the fall season, such as tulips and Dutch hyacinths. In areas
where winters are comparatively mild, they require a cold treatment
prior to planting. Tulips and Dutch hyacinths should be placed
in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator for 45 to 60 days prior
to planting. They should, however, never be frozen and should
be planted immediately after removing them from cold treatment.
As you select your spring flowering bulbs, set
aside a few
choice bulbs for indoor forcing to add a bit of cheer and color
to the indoor landscape during the winter months. Bulbs that are
good for indoor forcing include crocus, Narcissus, grape
hyacinths, daffodils, and hyacinths. Avoid using tulips or Dutch
hyacinths which you have not pre-cooled for 60 days.
Pot the bulbs as soon as they are available. Prepare
soil by mixing equal parts of soil, peat, and sand. Place a 1
layer of gravel in the bottom of the pot. Firm the soil around
the bulbs, leaving the tips of large bulbs showing above the surface.
cover small bulbs and space them about ½- inch apart in
The newly potted bulbs should be stored at a temperature
40 to 50 degrees F. Success with forcing bulbs depends upon
their developing roots during the cold storage period. Keep the
soil moist but not saturated. The vegetable drawer in the
refrigerator provides excellent conditions.
After the cold storage treatment, place the bulbs
in a cool
semi-lighted location. Gradually move to sunnier locations for
good growth and color. Do not allow the bulbs to dry out at any
time during the forcing period.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
About Spring Planting Bulbs
QUESTION: When should spring-flowering bulbs be planted?
ANSWER: Spring-flowering bulbs should be planted
in the fall. In most areas of Texas, they can be planted anytime
between mid-September to mid-December. October, however, is generally
considered to be the best time to plant. Planting in fall is important
for 2 reasons--the natural chilling the bulb receives provids
the stimulus for the flower bud(s) to develop properly, and, it
also allows for proper root development. Artificial chilling may
be necessary to grow some types of spring-flowering bulbs.
QUESTION: How can you judge the quality of bulbs?
ANSWER: First, remember that not all spring-flowering
"bulbs" are true bulbs. The term bulb is used loosely
to include many specialized structures produce by plants such
as corms, tubers, rhizomes, tuberous roots, etc. So, not all "bulbs"
will look the same--size, color and shape will vary considerably.
In general, they should be heavy and solid. A soft bulb may indicate
internal rot. Bulbs should be free of bruises and cuts--these
are ready sites for disease and insect invasion. Inspect the bulbs
closely for signs of disease or insects. You will avoid many problems
by planting clean, high-quality bulbs. Remember also that it is
not necessary to buy top size for landscape use.
QUESTION: How much light do spring-flowering bulbs
ANSWER: With few exceptions, most spring-flowering
bulbs do best in full sun or filtered light. Inadequate light
tends to reduce the size or number of flowers and can even prevent
flowering in some cases. Most spring-flowering bulbs lose their
foliage by late spring or early summer, and therefore can often
be grown successfully under deciduous trees. (By the time the
trees leaf out, foliage on the bulbs is declining.) Light shade
and cooler temperatures can prolong the length of time the plant
is in flower and reduce fading.
QUESTION: Are spring-flowering bulbs particular with respect to
ANSWER: Yes and no. Most authorities recommend sandy
loams for bulbs, but you also can find many examples of bulbs
thriving in everything from pure sand to clay. The key to success
as far as the soil is concerned is drainage. Most bulbs are highly
intolerant of poor drainage. In the landscape, drainage can be
improved by adding various soil amendments, installing drain lines,
or growing in raised beds.
QUESTION: How deep should bulbs be planted?
ANSWER: This depends largely on the size of the
bulb and to some extent the soil type (heavy or light). As a general
rule, planting depth (from top of bulb to soil surface) should
be 2 to 3 times the greatest diameter for bulbs 2 inches or more
in diameter, and 3 to 4 times the greatest diameter of smaller
bulbs. Bulbs planted too deep may not be able to push through
the soil. Planted too shallow, they are more susceptible to moisture
QUESTION: What is the proper spacing for spring-flowering bulbs?
ANSWER: Spacing will vary according to the size
and vigor of the bulb as well as to the desired landscape effect.
Tiny bulbs like grape hyacinth are planted about 3 inches apart.
Large bulbs like daffodil might be planted 6 to 12 inches apart.
The closer together that bulbs are planted, the sooner they will
need to be dug and divided. On the other hand, if spaced too far
apart, the landscape effect is spotty and less attractive.
QUESTION: When do spring-flowering bulbs bloom?
ANSWER: As the term implies, spring-flowering bulbs
bloom in spring. But "spring" is not a precise time,
and may actually extend over a period of weeks and varying somewhat
from year to year and location to location. Early-, mid- and late-spring
are sometimes used to more closely define the bloom time. Depending
on the species, variety, and micro-climate, blooming may occur
from January to May. (Bulbs flowering in January and February
are sometimes referred to as winter-flowering. This term is also
used to describe tender bulbs which flower INDOORS in winter.)
Bulbs with Southern exposures usually bloom earlier than those
with Northern exposure.
QUESTION: When can the foliage of spring-flowering bulbs be removed?
ANSWER: Ideally, the foliage of spring-flowering
bulbs should be allowed to remain until it withers and dies naturally
(late spring to early summer). The longer the foliage remains,
the longer the plant can photosynthesize and build up its food
reserves for subsequent reflowering. Premature removal can severely
weaken a bulb, resulting in poor flowering and/or death. Unfortunately,
the foliage of most spring-flowering bulbs becomes unsightly long
before it completely dies, and many homeowners cut or mow it off.
If you must remove the foliage, allow a minimum of 6 weeks after
flowering before removal. Annuals and some groundcovers can be
interplanted with bulbs to hide deteriorating bulb foliage.
QUESTION: When is the best time to dig and divide spring-flowering
ANSWER: Spring-flowering bulbs can be dug and divided
anytime when dormant (after the foliage dies and before new root
growth begins in fall). It is probably best to dig and divide
just as the foliage matures and easily detaches from the bulbs.
At that time you know exactly where the bulbs are; later when
the foliage is gone you may not remember. The bulbs should be
immediately replanted or stored in a cool dry place until fall.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
SECOND WEEK OF OCTOBER 2002
QUESTION: I recently bought an "Everblooming Hibiscus"
and have it in a pot on my screened porch. The plant is making
lots of buds, but many of them are falling off before they are
fully developed. What am I doing wrong?
ANSWER: Hibiscus buds abort because of too much
shade and, primarily, damage by very small insects called thrips.
Give the plant as much light as possible (at least 8 to 10 hours
of direct sun daily), feed often with Hibiscus Food (a water soluble
fertilizer made by Easy- Grow) and spray with Orthene insecticide
every 7 days for 4 consecutive sprays. That should stop the bud
QUESTION: I planted some birdhouse gourds so that I could make
purple martin birdhouses before next spring. The crop was good,
but now I need to know how to prepare the gourds to keep them
from spoiling. How do you get the insides out and what works best
to preserve them and have them last from year to year.
ANSWER: There is some information at the PLANTanswers site:
A more complete text can be found at the Ohio State
Gourds are ready for harvest when the stems dry
and turn brown. It is best to harvest gourds before frost. Mature
gourds that have a hardened shell will survive a light frost,
but less developed gourds will be damaged. The lagenaria will
tolerate a light frost; but gourd color may be slightly affected.
Gourds should be cut from the vine with a few inches of the stem
attached. Take care not to bruise the gourds during harvest, as
this increases the likelihood of decay during the curing process.
Discard any fruit that is rotten, bruised or immature. After harvesting,
gourds should be cleaned with soap and water, dried, and rubbing
alcohol applied to the surface.
Curing cucurbita gourds is a two-step process which
may take 1 to 6 months, depending on the type and size of the
gourd. Surface drying is the first step in the curing process,
and takes approximately 1 week. During this time, the skin hardens
and the exterior color of the gourd is set. Place clean, dry fruit
in a dark, well-ventilated area. Arrange gourds in a single layer
and make certain that the fruits do not touch each other. A slotted
tray will allow air circulation around the gourds. Check gourds
daily and discard fruit that show signs of decay or mold and any
that develop soft spots.
QUESTION: Being an East Texas Native has made West Texas seem
awfully barren to me. I am an inept gardener with an even more
inept yard man. I was determined to have hydrangeas. I now have
them and they are flourishing on the north side of the house in
a bed enriched with potting soil and compost, and covered with
a light shade cloth. However my yard man has planted 8 plants
in an 8 foot bed. Can we move some of them? When and how?
ANSWER: Any and all plants should be moved during
their dormant period, so December through February should be the
prime opportunity. You might want to cut the top back (remove
½ of it) to balance the root loss with the top which will
need to be supported when spring growth begins. I would recommend
your same planting procedure with a preference of morning sun
and afternoon shade. Cutting back the top will limit next year's
bloom but will insure plant survival. Now that you are in West
Texas, you should use plants that are adapted to West Texas --
they are listed at the PLANTanswers website: