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Putting your bulbs to bed.


As summer fades into autumn, the blooming gardens of the past months become just a memory. But now is the perfect time to prepare for the reemergence of those gardens. While the ground is still soft and the days are warm, home gardeners can plant flowering bulbs in anticipation of another colorful spring. Such spring-flowering bulbs as tulips, anemones, daffodils, hyacinths, and crocuses will fulfill any gardener's expectations.

Spring-flowering bulbs have delighted the imagination as far back as the time of the Pharaohs, who grew anemones and narcissus in their gardens. In the 1500s, tulips were introduced to western Europe from Turkey, where they had been grown for centuries. They soon became the rage of the day, and in 1634, "tulipmania' struck full force in Holland. It wasn't unusual to pay more than $5,000 for a single bulb of a new tulip variety. People were known to stake their entire businesses on unsuccessful tulip ventures. Tulipmania was short-lived, however, and many speculators were left financially ruined.

Since the time of tulipmania, Holland has been synonymous with bulbs. The Dutch have developed bulb growing as an art and a science. Holland's famed Keukenhof, the largest bulb garden in the world, near Lisse, is the ultimate expression of this art and science. There, Henk Koster, a landscape architect, has created a harmonious composition of color and texture with flowering bulbs each spring for the past 18 years. His palette consists of 6 to 7 million tulips, daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, and other bulbs. Approximately 90 bulb-garden scenarios are played out within the one larger garden, and each year the stories change. On display at Keukenhof are French, Dutch, and English gardens, as well as a recently opened American-style garden, complete with a patio, a barbecue, and a stack of firewood. In the American garden, the bulb flowers are featured along the pathways and at the edge of the patio. The French garden features more formal beds of bulbs set off with summetrically clipped hedges. Visitors can sample the garden style of each country and integrate what they see into their own gardens.

To understand how simple it is to grow a bulb, take a tulip or daffodil bulb and cut it in half with a sharp knife. The tiny embryo of the future flower is surrounded by the leaves, which contain the food to nurture it in your garden. The first year is just about foolproof! And by following just a few simple tips, you can get most spring-flowering bulbs to repeat their dazzling performances year after year.

Planning is as important for the home gardener as it is at Keukenhof, where the primary rule for the garden designs is to mass for impact. Bulbs planted so that they march single file along a walkway will prove a disappointment. Mass those same bulbs, and you will create a focal point for a smashing spring display. No fewer than 12 bulbs of a single variety should be used in each grouping, and groupings should be repeated several times in the landscape for balance and harmony. Don't skimp! If you are on a tight budget, develop a long-range plan and add to your garden each fall.

Position your bulb displays so they can be enjoyed from both indoors and outdoors. Daffodils will turn to face the sun, so plan accordingly. Use bulbs to brighten edges of walkways and patios, trunks of deciduous trees, and special nooks or corners.

I like to think of my spring-flowering bulbs as living bouquets: pink tulips underplanted with blue forget-me-nots; yellow King Alfred daffodils grouped with blue violas; orange tulips underplanted with yellow violas and blue grape hyacinths; white lily-flowered tulips planted with the new black pansies; or mixed ranunculuses underplanted with white sweet alyssum. As a bonus, the underplantings will help camouflage the fading bulb foliage. Select colors compatible with the rest of your spring garden. If you do create an unpleasing combination, you can always change it for the next season.

To maximize and extend the display in your garden, choose early, mid-season, and late varieties of bulbs. With proper planning you can have a sequence of blooms all spring or several color changes throughout the season. Be sure to position the shorter varieties at the front of the bed; if you feature a sequence in the same bed, plant the early bloomers in front of the late bloomers for the most pleasing effect. (I prefer to feature each sequence separately for maximum impact.)

Purchase spring-flowering bulbs from a reputable mail-order company or nursery. This choice is critical. If the bulb is not large enough, or if it has been stored at a warm temperature, it will not bloom. Choose only firm, plump, large bulbs with no deep scars and with intact paper-like coverings (tunics). Small nicks and loose tunics are acceptable. The size of the bulb depends on the variety; be sure to get the largest size for that variety. The only exception is the anemone, which flowers best from the smallest bulb. And you should soak anemone bulbs overnight before planting.

You will notice that daffodils have up to three growing tips, or "noses.' The best buy is a grade one with two noses; the next choice is a grade two with two noses. Each nose produces one flower. You want to achieve a balance between the number of blooms and the size of the blooms.

Store the bulbs in the refrigerator or some other cool place until planting time. On planting day, don't let the sunlight heat the bulbs.

The right time to plant is in the fall--generally, the sooner the better. Bulbs planted in early fall have sufficient time to develop a good root system before the ground freezes, and that's what produces a good flower show the next spring. Tulips are the exception: the warmer the climate, the later in the fall you should plant. In southern and western gardens, where the ground does not freeze in the winter, tulips left in the ground will not bloom the second season, because tulips do not reproduce bulbs of blooming size if the ground does not get cold enough. In these regions, purchase prechilled bulbs and set them out each spring. Or chill them in the refrigerator for eight to ten weeks before your spring planting.

Locate your spring-flowering bulbs where they will have good drainage and full sun. Most bulbs will also tolerate partial shade. In fact, tulips will last longer if protected from the noonday sun, especially in the warmer parts of the country.

You can plant bulbs individually if you improve the soil and add a little fertilizer to the bottom of each planting hole. By my standards, this way is the hardest. It's easier to outline the size of the planting area first and then to dig the entire area deeply and improve the texture and drainage with well-rotted compost and other organic material. (Manure is not recommended for bulbs.) It is important to dig deeply enough that the soil beneath the bulb is well loosened to provide a good medium for root development. The soil pH should be neutral.

Add a slow-release fertilizer with a 9-6-6 or similar analysis. Studies by Dr. Paul Nelson at North Carolina State University at Raleigh have shown that the perennialization of tulips depends on proper fertilization. "Tulip bulbs disintegrate after blossoming,' Nelson explains. "Subsequent yearly blooms appear only if the original bulbs produce full-size "daughter' bulbs. Without adequate soil nutrients, this will not happen.' That is why home gardeners who don't fertilize yearly rarely get a second or third flowering.

Tulips can be further encouraged to reflower by planting them at least 10 to 12 inches deep. For other bulbs, the rule of thumb for planting depth is three times the bulb's diameter. Large bulbs will show and multiply best if planted six inches apart. Small bulbs should be planted closer, about three inches apart. Remember to position bulbs with their noses up in the planting hole--the tip is where the flower will grow from. Firm the bulb into place before covering it with soil.

After planting, water well. Keep watering until the ground freezes, and resume watering in the spring.

As soon as foliage emerges from the soil in the spring, spray on one of the new premeasured, premixed liquid fertilizers formulated for flowers. The foliage takes in the fertilizer for an instant boost. Reapply the fertilizer just before flowering and again immediately after flowering. Bulb flowers are above ground for such a short time that you have little opportunity to feed them, yet this feeding is crucial to next year's blooms. In the fall, cultivate a little bulb booster into the soil. In cold areas, mulch plantings with a three-inch layer of salt, hay, or other mulching material. Remove the mulch in early spring, as soon as the foliage emerges.

Remove flowers as they fade, before they go to seed. Removal conserves bulb energy and promotes future flowering. The bulb gathers energy from its foliage--that's why you want to leave the foliage (but not the flowers) on the plant until it dries up completely. For neatness, you may want to bundle or tie the leaves together with a rubber band. Some people dig up their bulbs after spring flowering and replant them in the fall, but for me, that is too much work. I just add new bulbs to the garden each fall.

If pests such as mice, squirrels, deer, or rabbits are a problem in your garden, try planting your bulbs in beds lined with half-inch wire mesh that will let foliage through and keep the creatures out.

If you are an indoor gardener, try forcing spring-flowering bulbs to grow by wrapping them in plastic and putting them in a cool place, such as a refrigerator. (Check labels for forcing varieties and follow instructions carefully.) When the shoots are visible about 12 weeks later, move them to the rooms you want to brighten and enjoy watching them grow and bloom.

Especially if you have never grown bulb flowers before, it may seem too easy to simply bury the bulbs in the fall and expect a show of flowers in the spring. But it really is that simple. And anticipating the display from your humble bulbs will surely shorten your long winter days.

Sequence of Spring-Flowering Bulb Bloom


--Snowdrop (Galanthus). Delicate white blossoms that pop up through the snow. Grows 4 to 6 inches tall.

--Winter Aconite (Eranthis). Yellow, buttercup-shaped flowers. Grows 4 to 6 inches tall.

--Glory-of-the-Snow (Chionodoxa). Six-petaled, lavender-purple flowers. Grows 4 to 6 inches tall.

--Anemone blanda. Daisy-like low grower in vivid shades of pink, rose, lavender, and white. Some are multicolored.

--Iris reticulata (Dwarf iris). Bluest of blue irises. Grows 4 to 6 inches tall. Multiplies rapidly.


--Dutch Crocus. Each bulb produces 4 to 5 flowers. Varieties include deep purple "Flower Record,' white "Jeanne D'Arc,' and purple-striped "Pickwick.'

--Daffodils (miniature). Two good choices are the all-yellow "Tete-a-Tete' and white-and-yellow-cupped "Minnow.' Both grow 6 to 8 inches tall.

--Muscari (Grape Hyacinth). Produces heavy clusters of blue grapeshaped flowers on 4- to 6-inch stems.

--Hyacinth. Good choices include "Delft Blue,' "Pink Pearl,' and the all-white "Carnegie.' Grows 6 to 8 inches tall.

--Tulip (Kaufmanniana). A dwarf tulip that resembles a water lily. Two popular varieties are carmine-and-white "Heart's Delight' and red-and-yellow "Stresa.' Grows 6 to 8 inches tall.

--Tulip (single, early). Blooms in April. Try "Apricot Beauty' combined with yellow "Bellona' or red "Couleur Cardinal.' Grows 14 to 16 inches tall.


--Tulip (peony-flowered). Multiple petals resemble peonies. Variegated pink "Angelique,' golden yellow "Monte Carlo,' and snow-white "Mount Tacoma' are favorites. Grows 10 to 12 inches tall.

--Tulip (Triumph). Outstanding varieties include variegated pink-and-white "Garden Party,' carmine-red "Bing Crosby,' and "White Dream.' Grows 18 to 22 inches tall.

--Tulip (Darwin Hybrid). Noted for huge blossoms. All-time favorites include "Apeldoorn's Elite,' red edged in gold; sunny "Golden Oxford'; and orange red "Holland's Glory.' Grows 20 to 24 inches tall.

--Tulip (lily-flowered). Blooms in May. All colors, including "Red Shine,' golden-yellow "West Point,' deep pink "Jacqueline,' and "White Triumphator.' Grows 22 to 24 inches tall.

--Tulip (Parrot). Noted for flamboyant color combinations such as the red, yellow, and green "Flaming Parrot'; pink, red, and green "Fantasy'; and blue purple "Blue Parrot.' Grows 18 to 20 inches tall.

--Fritillaria imperialis. Clusters of red, orange, or yellow bell-shaped flowers. Can be used as a single specimen (planted by itself). Grows 24 to 48 inches tall.

--Allium giganteum. Blooms in May. Huge candy tufts of purple florets. Also white and yellow varieties, and medium- and miniature-size plants. Can be used as a single specimen. Grows 30 to 40 inches tall.
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Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:spring-flowering bulbs
Author:Henke, Ellen
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Oct 1, 1987
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