Three great ways to plant bulbs.
A daffodil is an alchemist's dream come true. Think about it: You drop a brown lump into the soil in fall and add some water. In the dead of winter, succulent spears push up through the damp mulch. Swelling with promise, buds form in January and, by February or March, golden flowers emerge - heralding spring. The transformation from tulip bulb to bloom is just as impressive. Ditto hyacinth, Dutch iris, anemone, and freesia. Science explains it: Bulbs, corms, rhizomes, and tubers are all storage organs that contain more than enough nutrients for a brief and brilliant season of color. But explanation doesn't dilute the mystery. The metamorphosis from fall bulb to spring flower never fails to feel like magic.
To make the most of that magic, on the following pages we present three great ways to show off fall-planted bulbs. In large pots, you can mix them with annuals or mass them by kind; both methods make a big splash without demanding that you spend a small fortune for bulbs. (You don't have to worry about overcrowding them. Since they're only for the season and you don't expect them to multiply, you can plant bulbs cheek-to-jowl for maximum flash. And, when the flowers have faded, you can move the withering foliage out of sight.)
In garden beds, you can prolong a daffodil show by mingling early-, middle-, and late-flowering kinds to get two full months of bloom.
Bouquets in pots: Bulbs with annuals
Classic bulb/annual combinations like pansies with daffodils or tulips with linaria are as elegant in pots as they are in borders. The photos on these pages suggest some great pairings. Forget-menots (Myosotis sylvatica) are foolproof; their clear blue flowers seem to complement bulb flowers of any color - from orange tulips to red ranunculus or yellow daffodils. Sweet alyssum is another "goes-with-anything" choice. A ruff of burgundy lettuce is unexpected when paired with blue hyacinth, and after the blooms quit, you've got a crop to harvest. Nemesia, dwarf stock, snapdragons, and primroses - especially Primula polyantha and lacy-flowered P. malacoides - are other good companions for bulbs.
There are two ways to plant your bulb companions.
From seed: Some annuals (forget-menots, sweet alyssum) and grasses are easy to start from seed; you just plant the bulbs, cover them with soil almost to the pot rim, then scatter seeds over the surface, press them in place, and water well. The seeds will sprout, grow, and bloom right along with the bulbs.
From cell-packs: For small bulbs like anemones, freesias, or ranunculus, it's easier to plant the bedding plants first, then tuck in the bulbs. Fill the container with pansies, for instance, then poke the bulbs into the empty spots, using your finger or a pencil as a dibble. For larger bulbs such as tulips and daffodils, plant the bulbs first, mark their locations where you put in the bulbs with stakes or twigs, then add bedding plants. Or you can wait until the bulbs send up shoots before adding plants.
Solo show in pots
The simplest way to plant bulbs in containers is to mass a single variety in a pot. Bulbs with starchy foliage, like tulips and daffodils, look especially good this way. A half-dozen tulips and a handsome pot is all it takes to make a pretty vignette. (For a meadow look, overseed with grass as shown above.)
For a planting like the daffodil pot pictured at right, fill a large (16-to 18-inch) pot to within 4 inches of the pot rim with light, fibrous potting mix. Set the bulbs on the soil base so they're almost touching (a 16-inch pot will hold nearly 50 tulip bulbs or about 40 daffodil bulbs). Cover the bulbs with soil, leaving 1 1/2 inches at the top for watering space. Tamp the soil firmly to press it against the bulbs. Move the pots to a cool, shaded spot and water well. When green shoots appear (in three to four months), move pots into full sun.
In garden beds: The longest daffodil parade in town
Daffodil blossoms normally last about three weeks. But by planting early, mid-, and late-season varieties, you can have spring's most trouble-free signature flowers for two months or more. Just group one to two dozen bulbs of each kind in kidney-shaped drifts, putting taller plants at the back, shorter ones in front.
Use our chart to choose daffodils that will flower in sequence over the longest possible season. Most of the varieties listed are widely available, though you may have to order some by mail to complete your planting scheme (see "Sources" on page 61).
Though most of us call them daffodils, the plants in this chart are technically narcissus. Serious horticulturists consider plants from only one division - the trumpet narcissus - to be true daffodils. In the other divisions, plants are grouped generally by the proportions of the flower's cup (the center corona, also called the crown or trumpet) and the segments (petals) that flare out to the sides.
We mention daffodils from most divisions here. Some division names, like large-cupped, small-cupped, and double, are self-explanatory. The triandrus, jonquilla, and tender tazetta types bear flowers in (usually fragrant) clusters; cyclamineus have swept-back segments; papillons are split-corona types, which have a sunburst of color in their centers; and poeticus are fragrant, with disk-shaped centers. The miscellaneous group serves as a catch-all for a variety of new flower forms.
Most kinds of narcissus will flower the spring after they're planted in any Sunset climate zone, but not all will come back in perpetuity. Some are limited by cold, others by winter warmth. In areas with poor soil, plant in containers. For help in choosing the best types for your area, see note on chart top.
* Buy plump, top-quality bulbs as soon as they appear in nurseries. Generally, the bigger the bulbs' circumference, the more flowers you will get.
* In mild climates, chill tulips and hyacinths at 40 [degrees] to 45 [degrees] in the refrigerator for six weeks before planting.
* Soil for bulbs must drain quickly. In pots, use light, fibrous potting mix. In garden beds, add organic matter such as compost or redwood soil conditioner before planting.
* In garden beds, plant bulbs so they're covered with soil three times as deep as the bulb's diameter. In pots, follow the directions for solo bulbs on page 82.
* All bulbs thrive in full sun (dappled shade in hot inland climates).
* Apply complete fertilizer between leaf emergence and bloom. If you're growing daffodils in containers, use half-strength liquid fertilizer applied at leaf emergence, at bloom, and again when bloom is finished.
* After bulb leaves start to die, stop watering to let bulbs go dormant for the summer. (Exceptions are tulips, which don't perform reliably the second year, and bulbs planted with annuals.) For daffodils, pull off faded blooms, but allow leaves to remain and rebuild the bulbs. If you planted annuals with the bulbs, you can keep watering to prolong bloom; cut down or tuck fading bulb foliage under them.
A word about the late 'King Alfred'
Introduced exactly a century ago, the yellow trumpet daffodil 'King Alfred' achieved such fame that gardeners continued to choose it over improved daffodil varieties that were developed later. Not to be denied, retailers started selling the improved varieties as "King Alfred types," 'King Alfred Improved', or worse, just 'King Alfred'. Almost no true 'King Alfred' daffodils are grown these days; when you buy them, you're usually getting 'Golden Harvest', 'Dutch Master', or some other worthy yellow trumpet daffodil.
How to use daffodils in bouquets
After you cut daffodil flowers, place stems in a bucket of water. Fill a vase with a solution of commercial flower preservative and warm water according to package directions, or use a mixture of 1 part lemon-lime soda (not a diet kind) to 2 parts warm water.
Before arranging, snip off the bottom 1/2 inch of each stem while holding it under water (a wide bowl of water works well for this). Immediately transfer the blooms to the vase. Here, daffodils combine with goldenrod and forget-me-nots.
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