I love bulbs! How can you not? The only problem with bulbs is the wait. You gotta plant your bulbs at the right time to ensure they will bloom. Below I’ve outlined the “right” time for spring blooming bulbs. You’ll find these blooming bulbs in stores now, but they were almost certainly potted in late fall or early winter, after a little dormant storage and “chill” time. These are perennial bulbs and you can enjoy them year after year! Here, I’ve outlined the care for most bulbs, as well as some genus-specific information so now you will know what to do with the bulbs you buy this spring after they finish blooming in order to enjoy sweet spring rewards next year!
Flower bulbs tend to do best when planted in raised beds with ample drainage and plenty of sunlight with the exception of a few types, which prefer shade. For now we’ll stick with the sunny side of bulb planting. If you cannot place them in a raised bed, be sure the ground is cleared of weeds, branches and leaves and the soil holds no large rocks or roots. If you have dense clay or compacted soil you will need to break it up and mix some compost, sand and/or quality, well-draining soil into the top 6-8”. If you’re already on the sandy side, add a little compost directly into the hole for added nutrients. Bulbs naturally contain all they need to feed themselves in order to bloom but those extra nutrients are always welcome. You can also work in bone meal to the top layers of soil but that can attract critters so be prepared for that (I’ll post a safe critter control blog soon!). Of course, you can always pop them in a colorful pot, as I did in Episode 2 of Planting with P.J. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SB_jaYbNJ4&t=6s. I used bulbs that were already in early to mid-stages of bloom and came from smaller growing pots but overall, the process is still the same.
During dormancy, bulbs store energy, which is required to make those showy, colorful blooms we all love! Some bulbs, such as Tulips, Hyacinths and Crocus like a little chill time, as I mentioned, to induce dormancy. In our corner of the country that usually means time in the refrigerator prior to planting. Place bulbs in a brown paper bag or other dry, dark environment and pop them in the fridge, keeping them isolated from fruits and veggies. 6-8 weeks is a good chilling period so you can get them in the fridge as early as late September and as late as the last week of November and still be good to go. If you live where it is colder you can plant directly in the ground without fridge time or just store them in the garage or other dark, cold area until you’re ready to plant. East Texas gets cold enough to bring about dormancy for bulbs such as, Daffodils and Paperwhites and the Irises we tend to cultivate here in Texas. If you want to go for the more dramatic species of Irises, you will need to chill them though. There are a few others that can go directly into the ground like Freesias but chill time never hurts and is just a good rule of thumb.
While planting time is generally between October 1st and December 31st in most areas, there are specific times which are better for specific varieties. A good way to know the right time is the “Holiday Guideline.” The first to go in the ground should be placed around Halloween. These include Amaryllis, Anemone, Iris, Paperwhites (Zivas), and Ranunculus. Next, pull the Crocus and Daffodils (other than Paperwhites) out of the fridge and get to digging those holes around Thanksgiving. Last, but never least, my two favorites with their classic beauty, Hyacinths and Tulips hit the ground from Christmas to New Year’s Day. These are general guidelines but Texas weather is “special” so in most parts of Texas, especially, East and South Texas, we can plant from late December to mid-February and still enjoy early spring flowers. If we plant as late as January through March we are still in time to enjoy mid to late spring flowers! Be sure to always plant your bulb with the pointy tip facing up and cover them completely with soil unless directed to plant only up to the neck as with Amaryllis bulbs. Planting depth and use of fertilizer varies, but some good rules are as follows:
· 1-3” diameter – Plant 3-5” deep
· 4-6” diameter – Plant 8-10” deep
A balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer can be mixed into the soil below the bulb depth at planting, but be sure the fertilizer does not come into direct contact with the bulb. Soil must be layered between the two. Water your bulbs deeply after planting. Then, begin regular watering when foliage emerges. About 1” of water per week will do. Do not overwater, as bulbs rot easily. You can group bulbs for a bouquet effect in the ground, but it’s best to plant only one bulb per hole and each hole about 4-5” apart. Cover your planted bulbs with mulch and wait for their arrival in the spring!