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The best time to feed bulbs? When you plant them.

The best time to feed bulbs? When you plant them

What's the best type of fertilizer to use when planting bulbs in fall, and how should you apply it? According to university research supported by Holland bulb suppliers, complete timed-release formulas-- ones containing nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium--are most effective. These are dry fertilizers, usually with a sulfur coating.

It's the nitrogen that is likely to have the greatest effect on next spring's bloom, while phosphorus helps build long-lived bulbs and potassium promotes healthy growth.

To get nutrients to the bulb roots, work the fertilizer into the bottom of the planting hole. Nitrogen is water solube and would trickle down from the surface, but must types of phosphorus aren't water soluble and won't move much. Potassium also remains near where it's applied.

Using timed-release fertilizer ensures that nitrogen will be present in the soil when bulb roots begin to grow. With heavy winter rains, regular nitrogen fertilizers may leach through the root zone and not be available when needed most.

What about bonemeal, the old favorite?

Because changes in commercial processing have affected the nutrient quality of bonemeal, it's no longer the best fertilizer to use when planting bulbs.

Years age, bonemeal was made by grinding up bones--marrow, pieces of meat, blood, and all. As such, it probably contained as much as 4 percent nitrogen.

Nowadays bones are steamed before grinding to remove gelatin and other byproducts. Along with the byproducts, however, goes the nitrogen. Today, if benemeal contains any nitrogen at all, it's usually less than 1 percent. Instead, it provides primarily phosphorus.

Photo: Before planting bulbs, work a complete timed-release fertilizer into bottom of hole. Arrange bulbs, then cover with soil
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Oct 1, 1986
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