In the Garden:
Middle South
October, 2004
Regional Report

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You'll need to plant bulbs this fall if you want to be greeted by cheerful daffodils next spring.

Plant Now for Color Next Spring

Cooler nighttime temperatures are signaling most plants to begin hunkering down for the winter. Soon the colorful foliage and late-blooming perennials of fall will give way to a much more subdued, though no less beautiful, landscape. Now, fast-forward to early spring. Close your eyes and picture your yard -- the brown grass, the scraggly flower beds. Do you see anything else? If not, then you definitely need to hurry to the store or place an order for some spring-blooming bulbs!

Color When You Need it Most
I recall the thrill I felt last spring when the first of the daffodils opened. Nestled up against the warm south side of our shed, these early risers glowed as though they'd somehow captured the sun's rays. Following the yellow of the daffodils on the spring color calendar were the lipstick red and royal purple of the Darwin tulips -- bright, primary hues that satisfied the hunger for color stirred by a winter of deprivation.

What to Plant
If you must choose only one type of spring bulb, choose daffodils. They are easy to grow, resistant to pests like deer and voles, and they readily multiply. Stick with the traditional yellow-flowered types, or try something unusual, such as 'Easter Bonnet', with double pink cups, or 'Decoy', whose pure white petals surround a raspberry-colored cup. Choose a mix of early, mid, and late-season bloomers to extend the show.

Tulips are a little fussier, and the bulbs may succumb to hungry rodents before winter even hits unless you protect them with wire cages or another deterrent. Also, certain types of tulips, especially the showiest hybrid ones, tend to peter out after a few years and will need to be replanted. Still, tulips' rich colors and perfect forms make them worth the trouble.

Species tulips, such as Tulipa fosteriana, T. greigii, and T. kaufmanniana, are more reliably perennial and make up for their smaller stature with their fascinating colors and forms. T. kaufmanniana, for example, is sometimes called a waterlily tulip because in full sun the flower's narrow petals open wide like a waterlily's.

Brighten up the Lawn
Crocuses and scillas can be planted right in the lawn since they'll finish blooming long before it's time to mow. Plant masses of these diminutive lawn dwellers to create a carpet of early spring color, knowing that they'll continue to multiply for years to come.

Planting Tips
Wait until soil temperatures are below 60 degrees F before planting. In our region, this is usually late October to November. Keep purchased bulbs in a cool (50 to 65 degrees F), dark place until planting time. Store bulbs away from fruits, since ripening fruits produce ethylene gas that can harm the bulbs.

Be sure the planting bed has good drainage. If soil is heavy, amend with organic matter and build up the beds slightly to encourage surface water to drain freely. Planting depth varies with the size and type of bulb, ranging from 5 inches for small crocus bulbs to 8 inches for large daffodil bulbs. Don't skimp on planting depth -- deeper planting protects the bulbs against rodents and temperature fluctuations.

If you already have spring-blooming bulbs, then plant more of them, or plant something new and different -- you can't have too many bulbs! If you don't have any of these day-brighteners, then take a break from your garden cleanup chores and go out and get some.


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