Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A. | 11/22/2005 3:50:35 AM
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
The next few weeks are an important time for planting certain spring-flowering bulbs. This includes tulips, hyacinths and other bulbs that have been previously stored in the refrigerator, as well as bulbs you intend to plant and grow in containers.
Tulips and hyacinths have to be refrigerated because our winters are not cold enough for long enough to allow them to bloom properly. The refrigerator supplies the additional chilling they need. These bulbs should be refrigerated at least six weeks to eight weeks prior to planting, which means you need to have had tulip and hyacinth bulbs in the refrigerator since mid- to late November or before.
In addition, all types of spring-flowering bulbs we intend to grow in containers also are generally held in refrigeration until this time of the year when they are potted up for blooming in spring.
Most of the time we find the best results are obtained when these chilled tulip and hyacinth bulbs are planted into the garden in late December or early January. Bulbs planted earlier bloom earlier – as early as February – and the weather is so unsettled at that time that the flowers are more likely to be ruined by freezes and winter storms. Tulips and hyacinths planted over the next few weeks generally bloom in March and early April when the weather is more likely to be favorable.
Remember that tulips and hyacinths, like most spring bulbs, look better when planted in masses or groups rather than single rows. Also, plantings are more effective and dramatic when one or just a few colors are used. If several colors are used, they should be planted in small groups of individual colors within the larger planting. Of course, if you bought your bulbs packaged in mixed colors you don’t have any choice of the colors, and there will be no way to group individual colors. Next year, you might choose to purchase bulbs in single color packages.
Plant tulips and hyacinths in sunny to partly shaded areas that have good drainage. The bulbs should be planted into well-prepared beds that have been generously amended with organic matter and a light application of general-purpose fertilizer. We generally do not plant spring-flowering bulbs as deep as is recommended for areas farther north. Tulips and hyacinths are planted about 5 inches deep, spaced about 3 inches or 4 inches apart.
Once planted, you may plant over the bulbs with flowering cool-season bedding plants such as alyssum, lobelia or violas. Make sure the bulbs will grow taller than the bedding plants and that the colors of the bedding plants and bulbs will look good together when they are both in bloom.
Planting spring-flowering bulbs in containers is wonderful, and I always save some narcissus, anemones, ranunculus and freesias to plant along with tulips and hyacinths. When bulbs are grown in containers you can move them inside when they come into bloom. As delightful as they are in the landscape, spring bulbs are especially enjoyable indoors.
Any container with drainage holes may be used to grow spring bulbs. Plant the bulbs in well-drained potting soil so that they are close together but not touching. The tips of the bulbs should show just above the soil surface (or about an inch below the surface in the case of ranunculus and anemones).
There is a trick with tulips. Look carefully and you will see that one side of the bulb is flattened. Plant the bulbs so that the flat side faces the outside edge of the pot. The first leaf each bulb sends up will then face the outside – creating a more attractive presentation.
Place the container outside where it is cool. Move the pot to a sunny location when the growth from the bulbs is about an inch tall. Bring the container in on nights only when temperatures are predicted to reach the mid-20s or below, and return the pot back outside when the severe cold is over. When the flower buds begin to show color, bring the pots inside for display. The flowers will last longer if they are kept cool, so if you keep your house warm, move the pot to a cool room or outside at night if you can.
Hyacinths are one of the easiest bulbs to get to bloom in containers and can even be grown in shallow containers without drainage holes – if those containers are filled with pebbles or stone chips. Plant the bulbs close together but not touching so that about half the bulb is covered by the pebbles, and add enough water to reach the bottom of the bulbs. Add water regularly to keep it at that level. Grow them as recommended above. Bulbs also may be grown just in water in special hyacinth vases shaped like hourglasses.
If you neglect to plant your bulbs for bloom this spring, you cannot hold them until December of next year. So, as the hectic pace of the holidays slows, take some time to plant your bulbs.
Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.