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The lessons of bulbs; fall planting, spring surprise.

A simple bulb-planting project can be great fun for youngsters and a fine way to get them started in gardening. Fifteen-year-olds David and Catherine Ross of Palo Alto, California, have been planting bulb gardens for four years now, and each spring brings exciting surprises. The first year, David designed a simple scheme of tulips and daffodils in his favorite colors-yellow and white. The display was so successful that it inspired him to continue the next year. As his color preferences change over the years, so do his bulb selections. Each fall, he experiments with new colors and different varieties. What makes it fun, David says, is that no matter how well he plans, he's always amazed by the flower display. Catherine discovered her winning combination early on-peaches, pinks, and whites-and loves to repeat it from year to year. Each season, she shows off her favorite color of the year in the middle of the bed.

Start with paper and pencil (or a computer, if you have one) Choose a site that gets full sun most of the day. A bed that's bare of other plants is easiest to work in.

Since the most important considerations when developing a bulb show are height and bloom time, it's best to plan out the display on paper as shown at far left. (A parent may need to help younger children draw the shape of the bed.) David developed last year's plan on a computer using a simple drawing program.

To ensure a successful show and young children's continuing interest, keep the design simple. Use only two or three colors and stick to just a few types of bulbs. Order bulbs from catalogs, checking height and bloom time. Or buy them at a nursery; if height and bloom time aren't listed on the bulb bins, ask the nursery to look up the information for you. Place tall-growing flowers at the rear of the bed, or in the middle of a bed that's viewed from all sides, like the one at left. Use shorter kinds in front. Don't use bulbs singly; start with at least 10 of one kind and group them in clumps or scatter in drifts.

For a show-stopping display, select bulbs that all bloom at the same time. Daffodils and tulips come in early-, mid-, and late-season varieties. Late-season daffodils usually coincide with midseason tulips.

Hyacinths are early bloomers and can start the show. Ranunculus normally flower later than tulips and daffodils and extend bloom time after the others fade. Anemones make a lush, colorful, low border that bears flowers over several months.

For a less dramatic show but one that lasts longer, mix early, mid-, and late-season flowers for a succession of bloom.

Crowd bulbs for greatest impact

Buy enough bulbs to fill the bed (a large bed can be expensive, so consider cost when choosing a site).

To make the bed soft and easy to work, add plenty of organic matter to the soil and till it in thoroughly. Scatter bulb food over the soil and dig it into the top few inches; rake smooth.

Set out bulbs according to the plan, then plant them 2 to 6 inches deep, depending on the size of the bulb. Water well after planting and through dry periods in winter and spring. Add mulch to hold in moisture and to help keep weeds down.
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Oct 1, 1990
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