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Garden Dirt | The Dreaded Tulip Envy

By Ray Greenstreet


So who’s thinking of spring? Heck, it’s not even Thanksgiving. But the seasons do speed by and when your neighbor’s yards are blooming with tulips and daffodils – and your yard is still brown and barren – you may be struck by the dreaded “tulip envy.”


Fall is the time to plant these spring blooming beauties. Flowering bulbs need a period of dormancy to bloom. Planted now, they’ll rest through winter and wake up when the spring sun warms the ground. You may even forgot you planted them until you see the green shoots popping up.


Smart bulb planting begins with high-quality bulbs. Look for those that are plump and firm – avoid bulbs that are soft and mushy or have mold growing on them.


Even healthy bulbs will fail if they’re planted in the wrong spot. Most bulbs do best in full sun (at least 6 hours of direct sun a day) and well-drained soil.


Not sure how deep to plant your bulbs? The general rule of thumb is to dig a hole two to three times deeper than the bulb is tall. So if you have a three-inch-tall bulb, dig a hole six to nine inches deep. There are always exceptions, so check the planting directions that come with the bulbs for specific instructions.


Like most plants, bulbs appreciate well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Mix compost – homegrown or “Bumper Crop” works great – into the planting holes to ensure good blooming. Sprinkle some Bulb Tone or bone meal in the bottom of the hole, toss a little soil over the fertilizer and place the bulb pointy side up. If you don’t see a pointy side, look for where the roots come out – that end goes down.


A good drink after planting will encourage root growth and eliminate air pockets in the soil that could cause your bulbs to dry out.


After the bulbs have finished blooming, don’t remove the leaves; they will feed the bulb through photosynthesis. The leaves turn brown when they’re done feeding and then you can cut them back to the ground.


Spring blooming bulbs are easy to incorporate into any landscape.


The spring standard bearer is the tulip. For a formal look, plant a row of same colors along both sides of a walkway – all white looks especially elegant planted next to a brick walk. For an informal, cottage garden effect try the variegated variety of tulips. Or have fun with a pre-packaged “mixed bag” of complimentary colors – yellow, orange and reds are “hot” while pinks, lavenders and purple create a calm environment.


An old-fashioned garden isn’t complete without daffodils (narcissus) or crocus, the earliest spring bloomers. Both of these favorites work in flower beds or scattered about a fence-lines and at the edge of the woods.


Incorporate bulbs in your perennial garden. Allium and Persian lilies are “wow” flowers – some of the giant alliums grow to several feet high.


Create a spring flower meadow using tiny grape hyacinth, snowdrops, Grecian wildflowers and dwarf iris. A trick to get that “naturalized” look is to take a handful and toss them around the area to be planted. Plant them where they land.


Bulbs also do well in containers. Choose a container with drainage holes and deep enough to hold the bulbs with a few inches of soil at the bottom. You’ll need to allow a 1-inch space between the tip of the bulb and the rim of the pot. Use a good quality potting soil and mix in bulb fertilizer at the rate recommended on the product label.


Over-winter the container in a cool, dark place such as an unheated, frost-free basement, garage, or shed. Don’t let the pots dry out; if the soil feels dry to the touch, fill the pot to the rim with water and allow it to drain. But don’t overwater – excess moisture can rot the bulbs. When spring arrives, move the container into a sunny location. As your bulbs grow larger and bloom, check soil moisture daily, and water as needed to keep the soil moist but not soggy.


Add “plant spring bulbs” to your regular fall ritual and avoid the dreaded “tulip envy.”







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