Plant bulbs and flowers this fall for a beautiful spring

October 29, 2008

University Park, Pa. — Colorful spring flowers will replace the dull white of winter, if one invests a little work and preparation in the autumn. The garden can be in constant bloom from January to July using these helpful suggestions.

Optimum planting time for spring flowers falls between Sept. 15 and Nov. 30 in Pennsylvania. "It’s easy to plant spring flowers, and not only do they last for years, but they also brighten the winter landscape even when it’s still snowy," said Jim Sellmer, associate professor of ornamental horticulture in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Snow drops, or Galanthus, are the first flower of the spring. "They're the small, white, bell-shaped flowers blooming in yards in late January," said Sellmer. Snow crocus follow, providing more colors against the white backdrop of snow. Also blooming in early spring are Winter Aconite, a low-growing plant with small yellow flowers, and Chinodoxia, which are rapidly multiplying blue, white or pink star-shaped flowers.

Blooming in March and April are Anemone Blanda or Grecian Wildflowers, which have aster-shaped purple, pink or white flowers. Giant crocus bloom during the same period, as do iris reticulata, which grow only 5 inches tall and resemble other irises. Sellmer explained that "other, more familiar, flowers bloom during March and April such as daffodils, both minature and trumpet; hyacinths; and double-early, Fosteriana and Kaufmanniana tulips."

Tulips begin to bloom in April and May. "Checkered lilies and Spanish bluebells, some other interesting small bulbs, bloom during this time," said Sellmer.

Many types of lilies bloom during June along with Dutch irises and alliums, which are near-perfect spheres of purple flowers resting atop a thick stem. "German irises are the large, familiar, bearded flowers with a fruity scent," Sellmer said. "These flowers grow from rhizomes that are planted 3 inches deep and will grow until the end of July."

When planting, don’t overlook a plot of soil because it’s shady in the fall. If the trees around it lose their leaves, it could be a sunny space in the spring. Bulbs can be planted any time in the fall as long as the ground is still soft enough to dig in.

Plant flower bulbs pointed end up and at a depth of three times their diameter; for daffodils, this is about 6 to 8 inches while smaller bulbs can be planted 3 to 5 inches deep. Add bonemeal or superphosphate to the soil when planting bulbs to encourage root development.

To fertilize spring bulbs, add 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 soluble fertilizer plus two cups of bonemeal per 10 square foot area and repeat this application when shoots break through in the spring.

"If you plant large bulbs, cover them with 2 inches of soil and plant smaller bulbs on top of them you can fit a lot of bulbs into a single space," said Sellmer. "While you’re waiting for the bulbs to bloom, you can plant shallow-rooted annuals on top of your flowers."

If the soil has a high clay content, work organic matter, such as compost or peat moss, into the top 12 to 18 inches to improve drainage. "By adding a 3-inch layer of wood chips or bark to the top of the soil, you can retain moisture and prevent mud from splashing onto your spring flowers," he explained.

If rodents find the bulbs appetizing, consider surrounding the bulbs with a cage made of hardware cloth. Or spread fine-mesh chicken wire over the top of the soil and spread mulch if one anticipates a rodent problem, said Sellmer.

Once the flowers bloom, remove any fading foliage so falling seeds don’t rob nourishment from the existing bulbs. "It is important to let the foliage die completely before you remove it so that it can gather nutrients for growth during the next season," said Sellmer. "Planting spring-flowering bulbs is easy and doesn’t require much attention besides these few steps. Your flowers will bloom for years to come and brighten the last, long months of winter."


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Last Updated March 19, 2009