Planting and Caring for Flower Bulbs

There is nothing quite as welcome as those beautiful spring flowers that seem to emerge from nowhere to welcome the arrival of spring. Bulb type flowers are really unique plants, because they spend most of their days resting quietly beneath the surface of the soil. Then right on schedule, up they come, full of bloom and vigor, and then almost as fast as they came, they go. Except for the green leafy part of the plant that tends to linger longer than we would like them to.

Despite their short bloom time and unattractive foliage after the blooms are gone, they are still a wonderful addition to any landscape. But how should you care for them? First let’s talk about how to use them in your landscape. Flowers of all kinds are best when planted in groupings. Many people buy 25 or 50 bulbs and just go around the yard planting helter skelter. That’s fine if that’s what you want, but when planted that way they tend to blend in with the landscape and really don’t show up well at all. When you plant them in large groups they are a breathtaking showpiece.

In the early spring start thinking about where you would like to create a bed for flower bulbs. Prepare the bed by raising it with good rich topsoil, and if at all possible add some well composted cow manure. Do this in the spring while you are in the gardening mood; you may not be in the fall. Over the summer fill the bed with annual flowers to keep the weeds down, and to pretty up your yard for the summer. Come fall all you have to do is pull out the annuals and plant your bulbs to the depth recommended on the package.

If you think you could have a problem with squirrels digging up the bulbs and eating them, you can also wrap the bulbs in steel wool, leaving just the tip of the bulb exposed so it can grow out of the little wire cage you’ve created. Or you can just plant the bulbs and then cover the bed with chicken wire or plastic fencing until the bulbs start to grow in the spring.

When the bulbs come up in the spring and start blooming, you should clip off the blooms as they start to wither. This keeps the bulb from producing seeds, which requires a lot of energy, and you want the bulb to use all of its available energy to store food in preparation for the bulb’s resting period. Once the bulbs are completely done blooming you don’t want to cut off the tops until they are withered and die back. The million dollar question is how to treat the tops until that happens.

Many people bend them over and slip a rubber band over them, or in the case of bulbs like Daffodils tie them with one of the long leaves. This seems to work because it is a very common practice among many experienced gardeners. However, Mike is about to rain on the parade.

I strongly disagree with this theory because back about 6th grade we learned about photosynthesis in science class. To recap what we learned, and without going into the boring details, photosynthesis is the process of the plant using the sunís rays to make food for itself. The rays from the sun are absorbed by the foliage and the food making process begins. In the case of a flower bulb this food is transported to the bulb beneath the ground and stored for later use.

So basically the leaves of the plant are like little solar panels. Their job is to absorb the rays from the sun to begin the process known as photosynthesis. If we fold them over and handcuff them with their hands behind their back, they are not going to be able to do their job. Itís like throwing a tarpaulin over 80% of a solar panel.

In order for the leaves to absorb the rays from the sun, the surface of the foliage has to be exposed to the sun. On top of that, when you bend the foliage over, you are restricting the flow of nutrients to the bulb. The veins in the leaves and the stem are a lot like our blood vessels. If you restrict them the flow stops.

You decide. I’ve presented my case. Bending them over seems to work, but I’ve spent a lot of money on my bulbs. I want them running at full speed. What I do is clip the blooms off once they are spent, and just leave the tops alone until they are yellow and wilted. If they are still not wilted when it’s time to plant my annual flowers, I just plant the annuals in between the bulbs. As the bulbs die back the annuals tend to grow and conceal them. If one shows through I clip it off. It seems to work well for me.

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Plant Flower Bulbs For Beautiful Container Gardening

As a group,flower bulbs are outstanding plants colorful, showy, and generally easy to grow for container gardening. Many have evergreen foliage; with others, the leaves ripen after flowering and the bulbs are stored and started again, year after year. Some flower bulbs are hardy, others, tender, though what is, and is not hardy, in a particular area is a matter of winter temperature averages. In cold regions, tender tuberous begonias, gloxinias, and calla lilies can be treated like summer in container gardens. This gives the gardener a wide variety to grow from earliest spring to late fall.

Dutch flower bulbs include crocus, snowdrops, eranthis or winter aconites, chionodoxas, scillas, grape hyacinths, leucojums or snowflakes, Dutch hyacinths, daffodils, and tulips, the pride of northern spring gardens. Though hardy, they are not adapted to garden containers outdoors where temperatures drop much below freezing. They require the protection of a shed, unheated cellar or cold frame. Gardening Pots can also be dug into a trench in the ground for the winter and covered with a thick blanket of marsh hay or straw. Where temperatures do not go below freezing, Dutch flower bulbs can be left outdoors in gardening pots over the winter.

For best results in a container garden, start with fresh, firm, large-sized flower bulbs each fall. Insure good drainage in the bottom of each garden pot and use a light soil with bone meal added. If in clay pots, plunge during the rooting period in damp peat moss to prevent rapid drying out. If this occurs too often, roots will be injured and flowers will be poor. When weather permits, after the danger of freezing passes, put your container garden outside where they are to flower or in a nursery row until they reach the bud stage. After blooming, move your container garden where foliage can ripen unseen.

For fragrance, concentrate on Dutch hyacinths, excellent for bedding large planter boxes or raised beds. Daffodils look well grouped around trees or large shrubs, as birches and forsythias. Tulips, formal in character, combine delightfully with pansies, violas, wall flowers, forget-me-nots, marguerites, English daisies, and annual candytuft in container gardens.

As already indicated, in cold areas, Dutch flower bulbs cannot be potted or planted in small window boxes and left outdoors unprotected for the winter. They can, however, be set out in large planters and boxes, deep and wide enough to contain plenty of soil. The garden pots should be one and a half to two feet deep and about two feet wide. Set flower bulbs, with at least six inches of soil above them, planting them early enough in the fall so that they can make root growth before soil freezes hard. In penthouse gardens in New York City, Dutch bulbs have been grown successfully in this way, but it is always a risk. It makes no difference whether garden pots are made of wood, concrete, or other material; it is the amount of soil they hold that counts.

Actually, it is not the freezing of the soil that injures flower bulbs (this occurs in open ground), but it is the pressure and counter pressure exerted by frost on the sides of containers, which are firm and do not give. As a result, flower bulbs are bruised and thrust out of the soil, their roots torn. Where there is no hard freeze, but sufficient cold weather, hardy flower bulbs can be grown successfully in garden containers of small size.

Here is a partial list of flower bulbs that thrive in container gardens. They will help you with your container garden design

Achimenes are warmth-loving trailing plants with neat leaves and tubular flowers in blue, lavender, red and white. Related to gloxinias and African violets, they are nice in hanging baskets and window boxes or in garden pots on tables, shelves, or wall brackets. Start the small tubers indoors and give plants a sheltered spot with protection from strong sun and wind. Achimenes, an old standby in the South, is worthy of more frequent planting.

Agapanthus or Blue Lily of the Nile is a fleshy-rooted evergreen plant, with strap leaves, often grown in tubs and urns on terraces and steps during the summer, when the tall blue spikes unfold. Culture is easy, but plants require a well-lighted, frost proof room or greenhouse in winter. This is an old-time favorite, often seen in the gardens of Europe. It is a perfect flower bulb for container gardening.

The Calla Lily is Showy, and outdoors in warmer regions, but a tender pot plant in the North. Most familiar is the white one with large, shiny, heart-shaped leaves. Start bulbs indoors in February or March in rich soil and, when weather settles, transfer to large gardening pots and take outdoors. Calla lilies do well in full sun or part shade, are heavy feeders and need much water. There is also a dainty yellow one with white-spotted leaves. Rest your flower bulbs after foliage ripens and grow again.

Colorful and free-flowering Dahlias provide bounteous cut blooms. Tall, large-flowering kinds can be grown only in large planters and boxes, but the dwarfs, even freer flowering, are excellent in small garden containers. Attaining one to two feet tall, they grow easily from tubers in average soil in sun or part shade. They may also be raised from seed sown indoors in February. If tubers are stored in peat or sand in a cool, frost proof place, they can be grown for years. Check bulbs during winter, and if shriveling, sprinkle lightly.

Gladiolus, the summer-flowering plant has spear like leaves and many hued spikes. Corms can be planted in garden containers outdoors after danger of frost is passed. Set them six inches apart and four to six inches deep. The best way to use these in container gardening is to planting a few every two to three weeks, giving you a succession of bloom in your container garden. Stake stems before flowers open. After the leaves turn brown, or there is a frost, lift corms, cut off foliage and dust with DDT to control the tiny sucking thrips. After dusting, store corms in a dry place at 45 to 55 degrees F for future planting.

Gloxinias, another Summer-flowering plant and tender with large, tubular blooms of red, pink, lavender, purple, or white, and broad velvety rosettes of leaves. Start tubers indoors and don’t take outside until weather is warm. Since the leaves are easily broken or injured by wind or rain, put plants in a sheltered spot. The low broad eaves of contemporary houses, with restricted sun, offer an appropriate setting for rows of pots or window boxes filled with gay gloxinias.

Now you have some great ideas for your container garden design. It’s time now to start planting your flower bulbs.

Happy Container Gardening!

Copyright © 2006 Mary Hanna All Rights Reserved.

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How To Ensure Early Bulbs Bloom, Year After Year

Do you notice when visiting gardens the great quantities of Daffodils and other early bulbs that we plant to herald in the spring. But how do we ensure we have a great display each year?

The early flowering bulbs

Quite a few seasoned gardeners have had their first horticultural experience by the planting of a few Daffodil or Tulip bulbs, thus spurring them onto more adventurous plantings. At the end of April the very early flowering bulbs will come to the end of their blooming season. This group of early bloomers includes Daffodils, Hyacinths, Bluebells, Crocus, Snowdrops and early Tulips. All these bulbs will flower well for any gardener the first growing season but for them to bloom well the following seasons we must give them some care.

Die-back not tieback

All bulbs leaves must be allowed a minimum of six weeks after flowering to die down, so if these bulbs are planted in a lawn that area of lawn must remain uncut for six weeks. Refrain from tying your Daffodil leaves in knots to neaten their appearance, also avoid folding them over and securing with rubber bands. If the bulbs leaves are naturally allowed to die back then they will take in the energy for next years flowering. I would also recommend nipping off the spent flower heads on bulbs once flowering is finished, this will prevent the bulb using vital energy for seed production instead using all that energy to bulk up its food store for next season.

Don’t forget to feed

The final tip for blooming bulbs next spring is to feed your bulbs, this is especially important if you have a hungry soil. Apply a foliage feed to the fully emerged leaves before the blooms start to form. Choose a general purpose purpose liquid feed.I would also advise you to feed your bulbs just as the blooms have faded with a granular bulb fertilizer applied around the bulbs base. This is the most important feed they will receive. Ensure this feed has a higher potassium or potash content than nitrogen content. Apply according to the manufacturers instructions and heed safety warnings.

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