Gardeners learn the most from their own gardening experiences, those that work and, especially, those that don’t. Some of the best gardeners are ones who aren’t afraid to try something new. If you haven’t included spring flowering bulbs in your landscape before, consider following Linn County Master Gardener Lisa Slattery’s advice.
Q: When can I plant bulbs for spring?
A: October is the month to plant your spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils, tulips, crocus and hyacinths. You have to time your planting just a bit. You don’t want to plant if it’s too warm because you don’t want your newly planted bulbs to send up shoots this fall, but you do want to get them in the ground with enough time so that the bulbs can develop a good root system before the ground freezes in winter. Since we have had an unusually warm October, waiting a few weeks is a good idea or even waiting until November is acceptable as long as the ground isn’t frozen.
Spring bulbs need a sunny spot and well draining soil. If they are planted in damp soil that doesn’t drain, they will rot. Daffodils should persist for many years if planted in the right spot. Tulips are a shorter lived bulb and may need to be replanted every few years.
When selecting bulbs, look for good quality bulbs that are large for their type and are firm with no soft spots or brown spots on them. When planting, make sure to plant them with the flat side (or root side) down at a depth equal to three-to-four times the bulb’s diameter. That’s about 6 to 8 inches deep for daffodils and tulips, 3 to 4 inches deep for crocuses and grape hyacinths. Also make sure you space daffodils and tulips about 6 inches apart so they don’t get crowded and rot. A 3-inch spacing is good for crocuses, grape hyacinths and other small bulbs. Water well.
Q: What do I do with the other bulbs already in the ground?
A: There are several flowers that are considered annuals that are actual bulbs as well that can be overwintered inside for next year. For Dahlias, cut the plants down to about 4 inches above the ground right before a killing frost. Leave these in the ground (or container if they were planted in a pot) for another week to “cure” and then dig up, gently remove soil, cut stems back to 1 inch from crown and allow bulbs to dry for about 24 hours. Once dry, store upside down in a cardboard box in a layer of dry vermiculite, peat moss or wood shavings. Store in a cool (40 degrees to 50 degrees) dry location.
Tuberous begonias can be overwintered as well. Dig up the begonias right after a killing frost, leaving a small amount of soil around each tuber. Cut off stems 1 inch above the tubers and place in a cool, dry area to cure for two to three weeks. After curing, remove soil and store in a cardboard box covered with vermiculite, peat moss or sawdust and store in a cool place.
Caladiums are another bulb worth overwintering. Dig up the caladiums when the foliage begins to die because of cold weather or after the first frost. Cure in a cool, dry location for one to two weeks, then cut off the foliage. Like other bulbs, store in a cardboard box layered with vermiculite, peat moss or sawdust in a cool (60 to 65 degrees) location.
Questions on gardening, land use or local foods? Contact Michelle Kenyon Brown, community ag programs manager at Linn County Extension, firstname.lastname@example.org.