All About Planting, Caring for Beautiful Flower Bulbs
Planting flower bulbs is one of the easier ways to start a flower garden. Tulip and iris bulbs, among others, grow very well once planted in the soil and are ideal for beginner and master gardeners alike. Learn more about planting and caring for flower bulbs here…
Shopping for flower bulbs will be a lot easier if you know the botanical name for your desired bulbs as well as the common name. The reason for this is that many flower bulbs have several common names or multiple different types of bulbs might have the same common name. The botanical name given to flower bulbs is one of kind and universally recognized no matter who you are talking to.
Similar to onions, flower bulbs grow in layers and produce offsets, little bulbs attached to the big bulbs, for propagation. Bulbs can typically be separated into two separate categories – tunicate bulbs have a papery skin while scaly bulbs, as the name suggests, have a scaly outer layer. There are also hardy and tender flower bulbs. Tulips and daffodils are produced from hardy bulbs and should be planted in the fall.
Spring Flower Bulbs Planting
Spring flower bulbs can be very rewarding once planted. Planting a flower bulb is not only easy but nearly foolproof as well. There are a few basic rules to follow to be guaranteed a vibrant and successful garden during the next growing season.
The first general rule is to make sure the pointy end of the bulb is always facing up. It makes little difference what type of bulb it is because, in all cases, it should be positioned so that the pointed end is pointing towards the top of the hole. Many flower bulbs will still grow if they are pointing down but this will stress the plant and, at best, reduce flowering, or, at worst, kill the entire plant.
The second basic rule is that the flower bulb should be planted about two times deeper than the length of the bulb itself. This is a standard formula and works with all different types of flower bulbs that you may want to plant during the spring.
Although those two rules cover almost everything you need to know to produce a vibrant flower garden in the spring, there are some other things to keep in mind in spring flower bulbs planting:
- Keep your separate types of flower bulbs identifiable until you plant them. Many flower bulbs look exactly alike and without the label, there will probably no way to tell your white tulip bulbs from the red ones.
- Flower bulbs can be planted in nearly any location in your garden as long as the soil is well-drained. Bulbs also prosper best in full sun so planting in the spring, before trees have shade leaves, is ideal.
- Before planting your flower bulbs, be sure to work the soil so that it is loose. Compost, humus, or peat moss are also ideal supplements to the soil when planting spring flower bulbs if the flower garden is not yet established. The fertilizer will not be necessary for the first blooms but can be added for plants that are perennials.
- If fertilizer or bone meal is used, make sure to not mix the fertilizer directly in the planting hole. The fertilizer will burn the roots while bone meal can attract pests or encourage animals to dig up the newly planted flower bulb.
- Spring flower bulbs will create the best display when they are planted in clusters and they should never be planted alone. Planting in clusters will give the flowering plants a dramatic concentration of color and provide for a direct impact on observers. If you are limited in quantity and don’t have enough for large clusters, small clusters are also attractive.
- A good general rule for flower bulbs that will bloom at the same is to plant the low bulbs in front of the high ones. By doing a little research you’ll be able to find out the eventual height of all your bulbs and this information should be incorporated into the flower garden’s design. For flower bulbs that will bloom at different times, taller bulbs will disguise the dying foliage of the smaller bulbs behind them.
- To create a double-decker effect plant small bulbs in a layer directly on top of larger flower bulbs. If the bulbs flower during the same period this will produce a double-decker look with blooms appearing on different levels. For bulbs that flower at different times, the flowers will be staggered, keeping color present for longer in the growing season.
How do I Force a Flower Bulb?
Narcissus, Paperwhites, and Amaryllis bulbs are the easiest to “force,” so maybe the beginner should start with those varieties. They do not require extensive preparation.
Otherwise, Crocus, Hyacinth, Iris, or Tulips require a period of “chilling” before they can be pushed to bloom out of season. (Note: flower bulb companies can supply you with pre-chilled bulbs) This chilling is accomplished by keeping the potted bulbs in a dimly lit area at a temperature between a steady 35 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit for a period of 12 to 17 weeks.
Bulbs can be potted (shallow clay pots work best) together in large numbers, packed in a peat-based potting mix flat side down. Once potted, moisten the bulbs until water comes out of the drainage hole. With tulips leave the shoot tips poking out above the soil line. Caution: Don’t chill the bulbs in a refrigerator that contains any vegetables or fruits as those foods (especially apples) may release ethylene gas that can damage or even kill bulbs.
In the case of un-chilled bulb types, place the bulbs in the soil directly or in a narrow vase that supports them some distance from the bottom of the vase and pours water into the container until it just touches the bulb. Keep them, out of direct sunlight but in a somewhat warm room (approx. 60 degrees). After a couple of weeks or so they should begin to send out roots. At 4 or 5 inches high, they’re ready for the next step.
After the chilling period or in the case of Narcissus or Amaryllis bulbs, you should now see that the bulbs have begun to sprout. Re-plant the bulbs in a peat-based potting mix and place in the warmer (approx. 60 degrees) room with the un-chilled bulbs. Like the others, roots should begin forming in a couple of weeks. When the shoots reach 4 to 5 inches, they’re ready.
At this point, the bulbs, chilled and un-chilled can be planted in a good soil mix and placed in direct sunlight. When the bud forms and begins to show color, move the plant to indirect sunlight. These are spring blossoms and they are highly sensitive to too much sun, so keep an eye on their progress. Within a matter of days, the buds should open.
When the bud opens your winter table becomes a showcase. The entire process is a simple process requiring some attention to the consistency of temperature and light, but there is nothing very complex about “forcing” your bulbs. The biggest trick is timing. Charts are available to indicate proper chilling periods. You can make use of those. Start with the easy types (Narcissus, Paperwhites, or Amaryllis to get a feel for the process and soon you’ll think nothing of “forcing” bulbs to bloom on your schedule.)
Popular Spring Bulbs
Spring flower bulbs are meant to be planted in the autumn and, if planned properly, can produce blooms from late winter through the end of the spring. Tulips are the most popular of all spring flower bulbs but there a massive amount of flower bulbs that are suitable in planting for spring.
Windflowers, hyacinth, fritillaria, and the Bulgarian ornamental onion are lesser-known spring bulbs but have become increasingly popular in recent years. To make ongoing care quite easy, most of these spring bulbs are unappealing to common garden menaces such as deer and squirrels.
Autumn is the time to plant the most popular spring flower bulbs for blooms that will appear during the upcoming spring. Spring flowering bulbs need to be planted about three or four weeks before the first frost. These bulbs use the cold season to prepare themselves for growth and are ideal in USDA hardiness zones four through eight.
Spring flower bulbs will eventually vary greatly in heights and colors so their uses in gardens and landscaping in nearly unlimited. They are often used for backgrounds, bedding, and along borders while groupings or drifts will create dramatic color displays. If proper planning is used they can bloom outside from January through May or June.
Most popular spring bulbs also work well in container gardening as well, with most varieties doing just as well in either setting. When in containers they are often used to provide spot color on patios, decks, driveways, or inside the home as well.
Here are some of the most popular spring bulbs that are ideal for many uses and often found in flower gardens;
Daffodils produce bright yellow, white, and pink combinations of colors. They are often used, along with evergreens, in naturalized settings and in conjunction with combinations of other spring-flowering plants.
Hyacinths are one of the most beautiful and fragrant flowers you can plant in your garden. They do not naturalize as well as other spring bulbs so their use is somewhat more limit toed others. They are very eye-catching when used in borders, containers, and informal plantings. Hyacinths are also ideal for entry areas as the aroma they emit is very appealing.
Crocus will produce some of the most appealing early spring colors. The winter species will often bloom in early January and continue until late March or early April. They produce flowers in white, purple, orange, yellow, and blue shades and are very common in groupings, along borders, and in many types of gardens.
Irises produce excellent cut flowers and are seen in flower gardens throughout the world. They are also excellent for container gardening and produce dainty, orchid-like blooms in almost every color, depending on specific species.
Growing Tulips are the most popular spring bulbs and are very common in landscaping design as well as flower gardens. They are also used in massing, groupings, along borders, and in container gardening. Depending on species, both single and double flowers are produced and can found in almost every color. They also produce attractive vegetative foliage that is often used when arranging flowers.
This member of the lily family should be planted 3 inches deep and 3 inches apart during the fall. Glory-of-the-snow produces blue flowers with white centers that are surrounded by dark green foliage. The flowers are arranged in clusters of about five and are 1 inch across.