Ann Wright: It’s November — plant bulbs for spring color
Although this has been a beautiful, colorful fall, winter rains have been slow to arrive. The warm temperatures have extended some of the garden seasons, especially in lower elevations. In addition to regular fall garden rituals such as clean-up and composting leaves, this is also the time to plant bulbs. Spring-flowering bulbs such as tulip, hyacinth, crocus, Dutch iris, and of course daffodil (Narcissus) may be planted now. Some varieties of bulbs such as tulips and hyacinths require winter chill to produce blooms year after year. Winter chill means they require several weeks of temperatures at 35 to 45 in order to produce blooms in subsequent springs. Some of the higher elevations in our area may have adequate winter chill for these bulbs to be directly planted in the soil, but growing these at lower elevations may require bulbs to be “pre-chilled” in the refrigerator for several weeks before planting.
Spring beauties that return every year and adorn many of our roadways and park areas are daffodils. The bright and sometimes pale yellow blooms greet us early each spring. Other tall-growing bulbs that will provide cheerful, colorful blooms year-after-year are Dutch iris, alliums (which are ornamental onions), peonies, fritillaries and watsonia. Others that are a bit smaller include ranunculus, freesias, crocus and the delicate white-blossomed snowflake (Leucojum) and snowdrops (Galanthus).
When planting bulbs, plant where they will receive at least 6 hours of sun per day. Bulbs are generally planted about twice as deep as the height of the bulb, although follow any instructions that are included with the bulb when purchased. Daffodils need to be planted deeper – from 3 to 6 inches, depending on size of the bulb. Larger bulbs are planted about 6 to 8 inches deep, in loosely-packed soil. Allow 2 to 6 inches between bulbs if planting them in the same hole, and mix compost into the planting soil until the blend is about 1/3 compost. To help the plant develop strong root systems, it may be beneficial to add phosphorus to the planting hole. By mixing the phosphorus — such as soft rock phosphate or bone meal — into the soil below the bulbs allows the bulbs to better utilize the phosphorus within the root growth.
When planting bulbs, the pointed end is generally planted up with the roots pointing down, but sometimes it may be difficult to tell “which end is up”. In this case, plant the bulb on its side, which enables the bulb to respond to gravity. Cover the bulbs with soil and water if necessary, to keep the soil moist. And, avoid walking on or compacting the soil in which the bulbs have been planted.
When selecting bulbs to plant now for spring, select healthy bulbs. Look for dense (firm), heavy bulbs, with no evidence of decay, mold or fungus — avoid any with mushy, discolored spots. Shopping early in the season will offer the most variety. In addition to daffodils, some of the most reliable repeat bloomers in our climate include California native iris, Muscari (grape hyacinth), and some varieties of scilla. Many others perform well — look for descriptions that say “multiples” or “best for naturalizing.” Naturalized plants are those that are introduced from another area and flourish in a region other than their place of origin. Self-propagating bulbs are often naturalized to an area and may spread freely in fields, meadows or woodlands.
Bulbs can also be planted in pots or containers making sure there is room for adequate drainage. Growing bulbs in containers allows gardeners to move the pots around to display them in different parts of the yard, or to move them for protection. Growing bulbs in containers also deters bulb-eaters such as gophers and squirrels from making a meal of your bulbs. Layering early, mid and late-blooming bulbs in one container is a creative way to have a long run on color in the spring. By choosing bulbs that require different planting depths creates a colorful display over the course of several weeks.
For more information about home gardening or for questions for Master Gardeners, call the Hotline at 530-273-0919, go to our website at http://ncmg.ucanr.org/; or, call into our radio program, “Master Gardeners and Friends” on the air each Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon on AM 830, KNCO.
Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener.
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