Winter Project: Plant Bulbs for Spring

red, pink, yellow, and white spring bulbs in bloom

(Editor’s note: Stan brings us some suggestions for a project now that makes spring extra beautiful. Thanks Stan!)

For Next Year’s Garden – Plant Bulbs Now
At the end of every gardening season I think about the changes I would like to make for the next year. I review the color combinations of the annuals and perennials. I consider which perennials will be ready for dividing. I make mental notes of plants to propagate for the school’s plant sale fundraiser. I make plans for the outdoor furniture I’ll buy at the Kingsley Bate outlet. My head is full of ideas for making my garden better.

Nothing shouts out the new gardening season than the riot of color from spring-flowering bulbs. That’s why planting bulbs is at the top of my list of fall gardening tasks as I plan for next year.

Tender vs. Hardy Bulbs
In temperate climates like where I live in Virginia you must plant spring-flowering bulbs in the fall because these “hardy” bulbs need a period of cold temperatures in order to bloom. Tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths are the most popular hardy bulbs.

Other hardy bulbs are called minor bulbs, not because they are unimportant but because they are small. Minor bulbs include:

• Scilla
• Grape hyacinth
• Glory-of-the-snow
• Winter aconite
• Crocus

Nothing says spring like masses of minor bulbs blooming beneath trees. I have large drifts of scilla and grape hyacinth under an old maple. The bulbs get enough sun because they bloom before the maple leafs out.

Unlike hardy bulbs, “tender” bulbs do not tolerate frozen ground. Because of where I live I have to lift my tender bulbs out of the ground, store them overwinter, and replant them in spring. It’s a bit of work, but I think it’s worth it. My friends in the San Francisco Bay area, on the other hand, just leave their tender bulbs in the ground through the winter.

Dahlias and tuberous begonias top my list of tender bulbs.

Bold Bulb Combinations
Every summer I spend hours poring over bulb catalogs deciding what to order for fall planting. Some years I prefer a calm palette of pastels, while other years I go for the “wow” effect. Last year was a wow year. I bought a mix aptly called “Shock the Neighbors.” Deep purple tulips, orange tulips, red tulips, and yellow daffodils kept my garden in color for weeks.

Forcing Bulbs for Winter Bloom
No matter where you live you can enjoy flowering bulbs all year round through a process called “forcing.” Forcing artificially provides bulbs with the conditions they need in order to bloom (usually periods of cold). You can either buy the bulbs after they have been prepared or you can do the preparation yourself. I used to do it myself, keeping the bulbs in the refrigerator for weeks at a time before forcing them into bloom, but now I buy bulbs ready to pop.

Fragrant paperwhite narcissus are the easiest bulbs to bring into bloom in winter. With their huge blooms, amaryllis are my favorite. Last year I sent all my friends potted amaryllis for the holidays, every one a different color.

The Daffodil Principle
Every spring, a field that is a mile from my house lights up with daffodils of every shape and color. For generations the family planted daffodil bulbs every fall; it was a family tradition. What started as a few bulbs in the field is now a vast meadow of color. Bulb by bulb, year by year. These daffodils remind me that everything takes time, that the small steps I take in my garden each year will make a big difference.

Stan Horst gardens in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, where he runs a family cabin rental business. He particularly enjoys exploring the out-of-doors with his wife and two teenage children. A former cabinetmaker, Stan likes to share his knowledge on the website he publishes to help people find the right outdoor furniture storage bench for their homes.

Earnest Parenting: tips for parents who want to plant gorgeous bulbs with their kids.

Image courtesy of foroyar22 via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.

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