Have you ever admired the vibrant colors of spring flowers and wondered how to create this beauty in your own landscape? “The time to plant for spring bloomers is now,” said University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Jennifer Nelson.
“Every spring at least one person asks me where they can purchase spring flowers for planting, such as tulips, hyacinths or daffodils,” Nelson said. “When I explain that they are typically purchased and planted in the fall, their exuberance quickly changes to disappointment as they exclaim, ‘Well, I’ll never remember to do that!’
“This is your friendly reminder that fall is the proper time to plant spring bulbs,” she said.
Nelson offers these tips for planting spring flowering bulbs:
• Plant in well-drained soil. Clay soils commonly found in Illinois gardens often do not drain well. Excess water in the soil surrounding bulbs promotes rot and will eventually kill the bulbs.
• Improve drainage in heavy clay soil with organic materials such as compost or shredded leaves to encourage healthy bulb growth. Amending soils addresses issues other than poor drainage as unimproved clay soils can compact and restrict bulb and root growth, resulting in bulbs that slowly decline rather than multiply.
• Consider the actual physical location. Plant a few bulbs near spaces you see every day. Part of the joy of spring bulbs is seeing those first green signs of spring emerge from the cold ground.
• Daffodils are a must for the Illinois garden, not just because of the wide variety of shapes, sizes and color combinations available, but because they are poisonous. This means that nothing will eat them. Also daffodils multiply and naturalize beautifully, without having to be divided often.
• Tulips are beautiful choices for the spring garden, but they are also a tasty treat for local wildlife, such as rabbits, squirrels and deer. In heavy clay soils, tulips tend to be relatively short-lived. After about three or four years, it is not uncommon for tulips to begin to decline, first failing to bloom and eventually dying off.
• Consider planting some of the lesser known spring bulbs that are attractive in their own right. Galanthus, or snowdrops, are one of the earliest-blooming spring bulbs, often blooming with snow still on the ground. Scilla siberica, or Siberian squill, has small blue flowers and is only six inches tall, but packs a big punch when planted en masse. Iris histroides, I. reticulate and I. danfordiae are some other early bloomers to consider for their delicate display.
• A good rule of thumb is to plant bulbs two to three times as deep as they are tall. Measure the depth of planting from the bottom of the bulb. Plant bulbs right side up – the “right side” is generally more pointed than the root end. If this distinction is not obvious on a given bulb, plant the bulb sideways and Mother Nature will sort it out.
• When purchasing bulbs, choose unblemished, firm bulbs with little or no new growth. Keep in mind that for a given species, larger bulbs will produce larger or more flowers than smaller bulbs. Bargain bulbs are no bargain if they are small for their species. They will not flower as well if they do flower at all. This is one situation where you get what you pay for.
“Before the winter winds blow, take some time to plant a few spring bulbs,” Nelson said.
For more information on planting spring bulbs, check out the U of I Extension’s “Bulbs and More” website at http://extension.illinois.edu/bulbs/.