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Skaggs: Order bulbs now for the fall

POSTED: August 8, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Flowering bulbs like daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and crocus are some of the earliest flowers to appear in gardens each year, some starting to bloom as early as January. Many will bloom and multiply for years with minimal care.

While it may seem early, now is the ideal time to begin searching gardening catalogs and online retailers for your favorite spring bulbs.

Spring bulbs flower from late winter to early summer, depending on species. After bloom is finished, they continue to grow and store food for a period of time before dying back to ground level and becoming dormant through the summer and into fall.

Spring-flowering bulbs start to grow roots again in the fall and winter to prepare for the following spring bloom. They are planted in the fall or early winter.

Bulbs grow best in full sun or partial shade, but flowers will last longer if they do not receive midday sun. Most early flowering bulbs can be planted under deciduous trees since the bulbs will be going dormant by the time the trees provide heavy shade.

Good drainage is essential for spring-flowering bulbs. If drainage is a problem, you can improve it by mixing two to three inches of organic matter such as shredded pine bark or compost into the beds 10 to 12 inches deep. Raised beds or drainage tiles also can help solve drainage problems.

Purchase bulbs while supplies are good during September or October, but wait to plant until cooler weather. Choose firm bulbs without mold or bruising. Store bulbs in a cool area below 60 degrees Fahrenheit until planting.

Plant daffodils in October or November, but wait to plant other spring-flowering bulbs until the soil temperature stays below 60 degrees.

Daffodils (Narcissus species and hybrids) are the most successful of the popular spring bulbs for naturalizing in the South. In general, jonquil hybrids, tazetta hybrids, poeticus and species daffodils will grow reliably in Georgia.

Jonquils are a particular class of daffodils descended from the species Narcissus jonquilla. This group of daffodils typically has small, yellow flowers held in clusters of two to six sweetly fragrant blooms per stem and slender rush-like leaves.

Tulips can usually only be counted on for a single season of color. They are often treated like annual flowers, dug and discarded after they have bloomed in the spring.

To ensure spring-flowering, refrigerate bulbs from the time of purchase until planting in November or December. Plant tulip bulbs 6 to 8 inches deep and 4 to 6 inches apart.

Few flowers can surpass the extensive color range and fragrance of hyacinths. Hyacinths can be left in the ground to multiply in the upper Piedmont, but flower size will decline as the bulbs multiply. If you want to have large flowers every year, dig up the bulbs after the leaves wither. Store to replant, or purchase new bulbs each fall.

Crocus are one of the earliest-flowering spring bulbs. Many begin blooming in late winter. Plant crocuses in full sun or light shade in November, 3 inches deep and 3 to 4 inches apart. Separate overcrowded clumps and replant every few years after the foliage begins to wither.

The showy, large-flowered Dutch crocus do not naturalize as well as some of the earlier-flowering crocus species and cultivars. Excellent crocus for growing throughout the South include: Cloth of Gold Crocus (C. angustifolius), Snow Crocus (C. chrysanthus), Tommies (Crocus tommasinianus) and their cultivars.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County Extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.



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