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Planting and maintaining flowering bulbs

Bulb planting is a simple task. Here are the essentials to grow healthy and beautiful flowers.

Planting bulbs

Don't plant your bulbs too early! In growing zones 4-5, the ideal planting time is mid to late October. After purchase, if necessary, store in a dark, cool and dry place.

Soft bulbs such as Fritillaries, Dahlias and Callas must be protected from drying out by being stored in sand or peat moss. It will need to be friable and aerated too, with a pH of six and a half.

  1. Loosen up the soil.
  2. Add a bit of Botanix shrimp compost and some bone meal or use a granular fertilizer for perennial bulbs.
  3. Make sure the soil is well drained but damp throughout growing and flowering.
  4. Dig the planting hole to the desired depth, usually as deep as the length of two or three of the bulbs themselves. There are exceptions though. Some bulbs, like Tuberous Begonias, are better off closer to the surface.
  5. Drop in the bulb with the point facing up.
  6. Plant the bulbs in a zigzag pattern in groups of a given variety, a clump of 12 to 20 bulbs.
  7. Cover the bulbs with soil up to the surface and water generously.
  8. Bulbs in exposed areas need to be protected over the winter with a layer of organic mulch.

Are rabbits, deer or rodents like squirrels digging up your bulbs? Sprinkle blood meal or granulated chicken manure around it. The smell will keep them away.

Maintaining bulbs

Spring bulbs (hardy)

  • Fertilize to maintain bloom quality and enable the plant to flower longer. You can even leave them in the soil and they'll keep coming back year after year if the soil is sufficiently rich in nutritional requirements. To ensure that it is, add compost during planting or early in the season.
  • Deadhead faded flowers
  • Let foliage yellow and dry on the plant, or they won't flower the next year. This is an integral part of their photosynthesizing system that allows the plants to store energy for subsequent flowering.
  • Every two or three years, once the leaves have died back and turned yellow, some bulbs, such as tulips, can be dug up, divided and replanted. This rejuvenates them and will give you years and years of blooms.
  • If you leave in the ground anemones, daffodils and scilla they will seed and produce lovely huge colonies over the years.

Summer bulbs (annual)

  • Fertilize with a general-purpose garden fertilizer
  • Deadhead flowers as they fade. Tthis will encourage the plants to keep blooming
  • Dig the bulbs in autumn right around the first fall frosts (canna, begonia and dahlia tubers and bulbs, and gladiola corms)
  • Stored inside during the winter. No need to clean them first. Store in a dark, cool and dry place.