Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A. | 11/23/2006 1:25:29 AM
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
The next few weeks are an important time for planting tulips, hyacinths and other bulbs you previously stored in your refrigerator to get them ready for planting. Won’t it be great to get the refrigerator space back!
Tulips and hyacinths have to be refrigerated because our winters are not cold enough for long enough to allow them to bloom properly without the additional chilling they get in the refrigerator. These bulbs should be refrigerated at least six weeks to eight weeks before planting, which means you need them in the refrigerator since mid- to late November or before.
At this point, it’s too late to go out and purchase tulip and hyacinth bulbs from area nurseries and start refrigerating them. Although businesses often put spring-flowering bulbs on sale at reduced prices in late December and January, if the bulbs have not been refrigerated, there is little chance they will bloom properly.
We generally find the best results are obtained when pre-chilled tulip and hyacinth bulbs are planted into the garden in late December or early January. For one thing, the soil in our part of the country may stay relatively warm until late December. Planting these pre-chilled bulbs into a soil still too warm can cancel the chilling process and lead to poor blooming.
Also, bulbs planted earlier bloom earlier – as early as February – and the weather is so unsettled at that time of the year 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. Plantings also are generally 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.
If you purchased your bulbs prepackaged in mixed colors, you don’t have any choice of the colors, and there will be no way to group individual colors. The only thing you can do for now is to think about whether you might want to purchase bulbs next year in single color packages.
Plant tulip and hyacinth bulbs 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.
Here in Louisiana 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 they are planted, you may plant over the bulbs with flowering cool-season bedding plants such as alyssum, lobelia or violas. Just 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 both are in bloom.
Planting spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips and hyacinths in containers also is a wonderful way to grow them. When grown in containers you can move the bulbs inside when they come into bloom. As delightful as they are in the landscape, spring bulbs are especially enjoyable indoors.
Any size container with drainage holes may be used to grow spring bulbs. Plant the bulbs in pots using potting soil. The bulbs should be close together, but not touching, and the tips of the bulbs should show just above the soil surface.
There is a trick with tulips, however. 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. If you do that, the first leaf each bulb sends up will face the outside, which will create a more attractive presentation.
Place the planted container outside in a shady spot where it is cool. Move the pot to a sunny location when growth from the bulbs is about an inch tall. Only bring the container in on nights 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 they can even be grown in bowls without drainage holes filled with pebbles or stone chips.
When planting in a bowl, 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.
Hyacinth bulbs also may be grown just in water in special hyacinth vases shaped like hourglasses.
As the hectic pace of the holidays slows, take some time to plant your bulbs. If you neglect to plant your bulbs for bloom this spring, you unfortunately cannot hold them until December of next year.
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.