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Wheeler: Time to plant spring bulbs

POSTED: September 21, 2012 1:00 a.m.

October marks the opening of planting season for spring flowering bulbs. The best time to plant is when soil temperatures fall below 60 F degrees, usually October to early November.

Bulbs can be planted in beds, rock gardens, in ground covers such as vinca, pachysandra and ivy, along the edge of shrubs and under trees. Most species prefer sun to light shade although many thrive under the canopy of deciduous trees.

When purchasing bulbs, select bulbs that are firm. Also remember the size and the number of flowers is directly related to the size of the bulb. If the bulb has small nicks and loose skins, that should not affect the quality of the plant later and can even help while you inspect for insects and diseases. Once you get the bulbs home, keep them cool as much as possible.

Good drainage is essential. If the soil is a heavy clay, add organic matter for improved drainage and aeration. When adding organic material like compost, aged bark or peat moss, do not be shy. Add up to 50 percent of the soil volume.

Fertilizer should be incorporated and the beds thoroughly prepared before planting. Many fertilizers can be used successfully, except the high nitrogen fertilizers which should generally be avoided.

Soil pH is critical and should be between 6 and 7. Soil pH can be adjusted by adding lime to the soil. A fertilizer recommendation for bulbs is to apply about 2 pounds of 5-10-15 per 100 square feet at planting; re-apply at flowering. But to be exact, fertilize and lime based on soil test results.

Planting depth is important. Large bulbs like tulips, daffodils and hyacinths are usually planted about 8 inches deep. Smaller bulbs like crocus and muscari are planted more shallow.

Spacing is also important. For a good show the first year, large bulbs should be spaced about 6 inches apart and smaller ones about 3 inches apart. Many gardeners however, prefer to increase the spacing to reduce the frequency at which the bulbs must be dug up and divided.

Give the bulbs a good watering after they have been planted. Normal rainfalls usually provide enough moisture after that, but in dry weather, water as necessary to keep the soil moist.

If weeds grow in the beds, they are best removed by hand. Be careful when using a hoe or other tools. They can easily damage bulbs or emerging stems.

When the flowers fade, cut them off to prevent seed formation. Removal of the foliage before it withers and dies naturally in the late spring to early summer will damage the bulb and make it weak for next year’s growing season.
A little planning and work in the fall will reap beautiful rewards next spring.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, His column appears weekly and on


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