Is it too Late to Plant Your Spring Bulbs?
The Holidays are over and the dead of winter, not the most colorful time of year, has settled in for most of us.The Knockout Roses are long gone.
The Christmas Cactus and Poinsettia have passed their peak and are headed to a resting spot where they hope to be nursed along by a patient gardener for blooming again next year; or at best are ready for the compost pile rather than the trash. But we know Spring will come once again and those bulbs we planted in the Fall will bloom with radiant color.
But wait! Did we even get around to planting them? What? Halloween came suddenly, and then it was practically Thanksgiving and, Oh No! We forgot to plant those tulip and crocus bulbs we bought to go along the front walkway. Well, not to worry. Reliable sources have told us it is OK to go ahead and plant those bulbs. In fact, they say we MUST plant them or they will be no good next year. Following are tips to get the most out of those bulbs we forgot to plant.
Early Spring Flowering Bulbs
Daffodil, Tulip, Crocus, and Hyacinth are the most common and favorite early Spring bloomers that grow from bulbs which must chill in the soil for establishing root systems. Unlike seeds, bulbs are storehouses of nutrients that must be planted within the year. They do not keep as do seeds and will shrivel up and rot if not planted.Therefore, we first check the condition of the bulbs. If our bulbs are still firm and onion-like they should be fine. Bulbs that have been ordered will usually be in better condition than those that have sat in a retail store. Bulbs must have been stored in cool dry places. But if our bulbs have withered there is still time. If we really have our hearts set on a touch of early Spring beauty bulbs can still be ordered for planting.
Best Time to Plant Spring Bulbs
If we were not forgetful procrastinators we would have ideally planted our early Spring flower bulbs back when the temperature was a consistent 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night in the growing zone we live in.This practice would have given plenty of time for a good root system to be established and ensure the largest healthiest blooms. For us in growing zones four through seven late December to Early February will not be a total wash out. Our ten-o-clock scholar Daffodils will be late and maybe not the brightest flower in the garden but no one ever saw an ugly flower, so better late than never.
Planting Spring Bulbs
What to do with Bulbs When the Ground is Frozen
What about our friends in the far north that are dealing with frozen ground? Advice from the experts remains the same. Better to find a way to get them in the soil than not to plant at all. Ideally, Snow Birds in zones 1-4 would have planted Spring blooming bulbs late August to early September. If the ground has not frozen and a shovel will dig in they need to go ahead and plant the bulbs. They will need to plant a bit deeper than recommended (see planting depth charts below). The bulbs need enough time in the cold soil to establish root systems. An early Spring thaw could cause roots to shoot out too soon. After the ground is totally frozen mulch the top of the soil with leaves or straw for insulation.
What if the ground is so frozen the soil can’t be turned? Again, better to find a way to get them into the soil than not to plant at all.There are two options:
Pot them up. Plant bulbs in large containers with potting soil. Make sure the bulbs are not right up against the sides of the pot, where they could freeze. There should be plenty of soil between the pot sides and the bulbs for insulation. Store the pot in an unheated garage or basement.You want them to get cold, but not expose them to extremes. Only water when the soil is dry, about once a month or so. Plant them outdoors in the Spring when all danger of frost has passed.
Plant bulbs on top of the frozen soil. Lay bulbs on the frozen ground. Cover with eight to ten inches of soil and enclose the area with a fence of chicken wire or something similar. With luck, we will have showy heads peeking out when Spring comes.
Spring Bulbs in More Temperate Climates
Our friends in temperate climates have a different set of issues to deal with for Spring bulb planting. Folks in growing zones about 4-7 never know from one week to the next what the Fall temperatures are going to be. Indian Summers can be quite warm and may cause premature sprouting. Later may even be better for planting bulbs in temperate zones.
Lovers of early Spring flowers that reside in zones 8 and above must use pre-chilled bulbs but will not need to plant them in the ground until early Spring. These folks won’t be as desperate as those further north for a breath of Spring so they will be OK. They have not had a frozen and flowerless winter as the rest of us have.
Force Blooming Bulbs
Amaryllis and paperwhite Narcissus are tropical bulb flowers that do not require a chilling period. These are great for planting indoors after Christmas for a hint of Spring in mid-winter. The bulbs can be planted in soil or even placed in wet pebbles. Keep them in cool-ish temperatures, maybe close to a window and away from heat sources until they bloom, usually in two-four weeks. Amaryllis comes in red and peachy pink colors as well as white to provide a burst of winter color.
Tulips have been popular recently for force blooming but are a bit more trouble as they do need a good long chilling period. Plant the tulip bulbs in Terra- cotta pots for good drainage. Keep the potted bulbs in a very cool location at between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Refrigerator temps are perfect but maybe not a practical storage place. Fruits emit gasses that are harmful to the bulbs. Best to find a chilly basement or attic.
Keep the tulip bulbs for at least 12 weeks in a totally dark area in temps between 40-50 degrees. Do not let the soil dry out completely. Move them to a warmer area when yellowish shoots appear.
Time to Wake Up!
Who doesn’t just hate to be awakened from a deep sleep suddenly? If we introduce blooming plants to sunlight and warmer temperatures gradually they will reward our kindness with beautiful blooms all Spring.Expect to see blooms three to four weeks after removing from cold storage. Introduce light and warmth gradually. When shoots are around five inches place in a sunny window with a temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bulbs planted outdoors will likely be awakened in Mother Nature’s slow manner. Of course, the later the bulbs were planted the later the blooms. But if we succeed in getting even just a few flowers all has not been lost. Better than tossing shriveled bulbs in the trash. Mother Nature will bless us for our efforts.
Tips for Spring Bulb Planting
- Plant Crocus 4 inches deep
- Plant Daffodils and Hyacinths 6 inches deep
- Plant Tulips 8 inches deep.
- The pointed end of the bulb goes up
- If planted incorrectly the stem will eventually grow upwards
- Bulbs do not need fertilizing for the first year
- Wear gloves when planting bulbs to keep human smell off of bulbs to deter animals
- Red pepper sprinkled in the hole will repel rodents
- Animals will not eat Daffodil bulbs
- Deer love Tulip bulbs so plant close to house
- Plant bulbs in clusters not singly
- Plant bulbs among perennials for added beauty