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February 8, 2013

Plant bulbs to add rich color to your garden

by Debra Anchors

Keukenhof Flower Garden by Vera Kratochvil
Bulbs are a variety of plants that have one thing in common - they store food in a plump structure regularly referred to as a "bulb."

Planting a bulb garden is an easy way to coax your winter-tired garden back to work with cheerful flower shows long before most perennials push their way out of the soil (and before it's warm enough to sustain annuals). Summer-blooming bulbs paint the landscape with vital color, adding beautiful flowers and glamorous foliage at a time of year when Midwest gardens can use a boost. Revive your garden early in the season with spring blooming bulbs and give your garden a little spark in the mid-to-late season with summer bloomers.

When?  Spring blooming bulbs (hyacinths, daffodils, snowdrops, tulips and crocus) are planted in the fall - any time before the ground completely freezes. They flower from January through June, depending on the variety of bulb and your growing Zone.

Summer blooming bulbs (dahlias, gladioli, lilies and cannas), are planted in spring, after the last frost. They flower from June through October, depending on the variety of bulb and your growing Zone.

Note: the majority of summer and fall blooming bulbs are not winter hardy and must be lifted and stored for the winter. Always be certain to check for your USDA Zone hardiness rating before you purchase or plant bulbs.

How?  Provide separate holes for each bulb, or a furrow for many bulbs, and place them in the ground without tamping-down hard. Invest in good hand tools; they are worth their weight in gold in the garden.

Bulbs need ample water and decent drainage. If water has an inclination to puddle in the planting area, you will need to break up the first 12-inches or so of soil and supply some drainage material such as coarse stones below the surface soil. Standing water will eventually rot your bulbs.

Use the size of your bulb as a guide and plant it two or three times the bulb depth. Space your bulbs about 2 to 3 bulb-widths apart.

Make sure the roots are placed downward. Cover your bulbs with dirt and pat them in firmly, being careful not to compress the soil.

Lift and Store:  Most summer bulbs are not hardy, so need to be lifted (removed from your garden beds) before the first frost. Bulbs generally prefer to be stored dry.

Remove any loose soil and gently pull or cut-off leaves. Leave the bulbs to dry overnight. Apply a fungicide (bulb dust) to help the bulbs stay healthy during storage.

Store the bulbs in dry paper bags or trays of dry sand in a cool place inside your house.

Be sure to read care instructions before storing your bulbs for the winter. A few bulbs need moist conditions and can be kept in slightly damp bark chippings.

The video offered and linked just below will be helpful as you prepare to dig and store your bulbs.

Storing Tender Bulbs for the Winter

A few more tips:  Mix bulbs in with your summer-blooming perennials. They will hide the faded foliage of spent spring blossoms.

Look for bulbs that bloom early, middle and late spring (or summer) to create a season-long succession of color.

Don’t plant your bulbs if the ground is really wet or frozen, they will just rot away to nothing. Wait for the ground to dry out a bit or for frosts to have finished.

Be generous! More bulbs always look better than a few.

Based on your personal preferences, experiment with curves and shapes for your beds instead of planting in rows.

Plant your bulbs at the right time of the year or they may rot in the ground.

Make sure you are planting in a sunny location – at least half a day’s exposure. The best way to confirm there is enough sun is to choose a site after nearby trees are in full leaf. Dig out a planting area slightly deeper than needed.  Always follow the specific instructions that come with your bulbs.

Be sure you purchase only good quality bulbs. If they are damaged in any way don’t buy them, the chances are very good that they will not grow, or not grow well.

Make a rough sketch of your bed design on paper using crayons, markers or colored pencils to create a pleasing color scheme.

A color wheel can be helpful if you aren't comfortable working with color. It’s easy to use and makes choosing colors a breeze.

Does this post leave you hungry for more information?  Read another of my articles about caring for bulbs.

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If you enjoy this website, you might like my magazine, Gardening Life.

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  1. That's a really informative post! I learned a lot of new things!Thank you for sharing it! I'm a newbie in gardening and I appreciate every advice!

    1. Thank you for the compliment, Mary; I am happy you enjoyed the post.

      Would you please share Gardens Inspired with your social network?

      Thanks so much! Deb


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