In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
October, 2011
Regional Report

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Gladioli corms are available in both fall and in spring. They can be planted whenever they're available for gorgeous summer color.

Time to Plant Spring Blooming Bulbs

If you've visited your local garden center lately, you've noticed the bins, bags, and bushel baskets of newly arrived spring-flowering bulbs. Even though the weather is still warm, bulb planting time is here. If you shop now, you can choose the cream of the crop from these hundreds of new arrivals.

Bulbs are relatively easy plants to grow. In fact, they will grow just about anywhere and in just about any type of soil. But for the healthiest plants and the most spectacular flower display year after year, take some time to prepare the soil before planting. Bulbs grow best in well-drained, compost-enriched soil.

I generally choose the biggest tulip bulbs I can find, but I never fail to add crocus, grape hyacinth, snowdrop, winter aconite, dwarf beardless iris, scilla, and glory of the snow to my shopping cart. I love planting combinations of bulbs for a swath of color in otherwise bare garden beds.

Select the Best
With bulbs, bigger is better. A bulb contains all the nourishment it needs for healthy growth, so the bigger the bulb, the healthier the plant and the bigger the blooms. Bulb sizes are usually listed on the labels of packaged bulbs and in catalog descriptions. Most bulbs are graded based on the size of their circumference, and they're priced accordingly. Daffodils are graded by size as well as by number of "noses" or points on the bulbs. Double-nosed (DN) daffodils range from the large-sized DNI to the smaller (and cheaper) DNIII. I purchase the largest bulbs I can afford, knowing that their flowers will be as large and spectacular as possible.

Along with size, look for firm, healthy bulbs with no signs of mold. Soft, mushy bulbs have likely been mishandled or stored improperly -- just walk away from these.

Choosing Your Site
Bulbs will grow best in a garden spot that gets at least six hours of direct sunshine a day, and has well-draining soil. If your soil doesn't drain well, mix in some compost prior to planting. Unlike vegetable gardens with their formal rows of peas, beans, and onions, flower bulbs look their best when planted in sweeping drifts or in large clumps. An expanse of tulips is far more impressive than a single-file edging of tulips; a clump of daffodils is more effective than spots of yellow flowers sprinkled throughout the garden.

To plant 100 bulbs at the recommended five per square foot, you'll need an area of about 20 square feet. Dragging out your old math skills, you may remember that the area of a square or rectangle is length times width. So, for 100 bulbs, you'll need to mark out an area of say 4 feet by 5 feet or maybe 2 feet by 10 feet.

Planting
Bulb planting depth should be two to three times the greatest diameter of the bulb. If your soil is very sandy, plant a bit deeper; in heavy clay, don't plant quite as deep. Keep in mind that recommended planting depths are measured to the top of the bulb, so you should plan to excavate the area 1 to 2 inches deeper to account for the height of the bulb. This depth of planting will help to protect the bulbs against frost, animals, and physical damage when you hoe or lightly cultivate the area.

Using a bulb planter or trowel, dig a series of single planting holes, or use a spade to dig out an area large enough to accommodate an entire drift of bulbs. At the bottom of the planting hole, sprinkle a little bonemeal or superphosphate. Place bulbs into the hole, pointy end up, spacing them as far apart as the size of their blossoms. Some bulbs may end up sideways or upside down when covered with soil. Don't worry, they will grow properly thanks to geotropism; the roots of plants will always grow downward in response to gravity. Cover the bulbs with soil and water the area thoroughly. The water will wash soil in around the bulbs, eliminating air pockets.

When you're finished planting, wash up and wait for spring! The lush beds of flowers you've just created will be a joy to behold.


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