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Gardening: Bulbs take center stage in spring

UPDATED: Wed., March 28, 2018, 4:43 p.m.

Daffodils brighten our gardens every spring. Feed them some 10-10-10 fertilizer now so they can build up their reserves as they finish flowering. (Pat Munts / The Spokesman-Review)
Daffodils brighten our gardens every spring. Feed them some 10-10-10 fertilizer now so they can build up their reserves as they finish flowering. (Pat Munts / The Spokesman-Review)

The snow drops are up and blooming. Tulip and daffodil leaves are poking out of the ground testing the weather before they really start growing. Crocus, grape hyacinths and miniature iris aren’t far behind. Spring is really here when the bulbs send their splashes of color across the garden.

For the most part bulbs are self-reliant in the garden. If they establish themselves in an area, you can usually count on them blooming for several years without needing to divide them. This time of year, all you need to do is pull back the thick layers of leaves or needles that might be covering them and top dress them with some bone meal and 10-10-10 fertilizer. The fertilizer will find its way to the bulb roots about the time that the bulbs have finished blooming and are building back their reserves for next year’s show.

It is important to leave the bulb foliage in place because this is the only way the bulb can rebuild the stores it used up sending up a flower. Leave the foliage on the plants until it dies back. Plant perennials and shrubs around the bulb patch to hide the foliage as it dies back. Mark the bulb patches with some stakes so that you don’t dig into them by accident later in the year. Bulbs appreciate a moderate amount of irrigation until they go dormant after which they are fairly drought tolerant until the rains come in the fall.

If you didn’t get your bulbs planted at their normal time in the fall you can TRY planting them now, but they aren’t likely to do very well and probably won’t bloom properly.

However, spring is the best time to plant such things as crocosmia, gladiolas, dahlias and begonias. All need to be planted after the soil has had a chance to warm up a bit. My garden soil was barely above freezing last weekend, so I am going to wait until mid-April to plant crocosmia. Gladiolas, dahlias and begonias are frost sensitive and need warm soil so wait until late May to plant them. As a note, all of these except crocosmia Lucifer are frost sensitive and will need to be dug before frost in the fall. Lucifer is hardy to USDA Zone 5.

With a few exceptions most bulbs need well-drained soil that is high in organic matter. Pay close attention to the planting depth for each type of plant. Crocosmia need to be planted about two to 3 inches deep and 6 inches apart. Gladiolas are planted 4 inches deep with the pointed end up and 6 inches apart. Dahlias are planted 6 inches deep and 12 to 36 inches apart depending on the type of plant. Begonias are planted hollow side up right at the soil surface and covered with half an inch of soil. Water dahlias sparingly until the foliage appears. All of these except the begonias prefer full sun while the begonias do better here in filtered shade or morning sun.


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