Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A.
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Like most gardeners, I occasionally love to seize the moment and plant something on a whim. But for spring flowering bulbs, that approach simply isn’t practical.
If you want beautiful tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other colorful bulbs blooming in your spring garden, you cannot wait until spring to plant them. Fall is the time to plant spring-flowering bulbs.
With spring-flowering bulbs you simply have to give up thoughts of instant gratification. With them, even an impatient gardener has no choice. The bulbs we must purchase and plant in October through early December (and in some cases late December through early January) will not bloom until spring.
Spring-flowering bulbs are those that generally bloom in our climate between February and April. You may see information dividing these bulbs into categories based on when they bloom in the spring, such as very early, early, mid-season, late and very late.
Choosing different types of bulbs from several of these categories will help you achieve flowers over a longer season. Just keep in mind that some bulbs often will bloom earlier in Louisiana than is indicated in the description. For instance, you may see May-blooming tulips offered, but tulips never bloom that late in Louisiana.
When buying bulbs, it is best not to scrimp too much on the price. With bulbs, you definitely get what you pay for. The quality of flowers you get depends directly on the quality of the bulbs. Bargain bulbs are no bargain if they flower poorly or not at all.
When selecting loose bulbs at a local garden center, pick the largest, plumpest bulbs in the bin. Look for bulbs that are firm and have no obvious cuts, soft spots or rot. If buying bulbs in bags, make sure they are healthy, firm and not undersized. If you are ordering from a catalog, do so as soon as possible – and generally choose the larger sizes when offered.
Deciding how extensive your bulb planting should be depends on a few factors. I think spring-flowering bulbs are an indispensable part of the spring garden. To be honest, however, the flowers of many bulbs are not especially long lasting.
Essentially, the price you pay for color from bulbs is higher than for longer flowering cool-season bedding plants like pansies and dianthus. For most of us, our garden budgets are limited, and so spring bulbs are best used for embellishment rather than for providing the primary display.
Good drainage, part to full sun and moderately fertile soil are all bulbs need to do well. The average landscape generally provides adequate drainage, but avoid low spots that tend to stay damp during winter.
Six to eight hours of direct sun will produce the best plants, and that much sunlight is especially important for those bulbs you expect to bloom again in future years. If you choose a spot where there is some shade from the hot afternoon sun, the flowers may last a little longer.
The use of long-lived, repeat-blooming spring bulbs is not as common as it could be in Louisiana. Lack of knowledge and lack of availability are probably the major reasons, but it is worth the effort to obtain and grow these spring delights.
Repeat-blooming bulbs are easy to take care of since they may simply be left in the ground from year to year. Active beds where displays of bedding plants are changed out once or twice a year create too much disturbance, and you constantly run the risk of digging into the bulbs with a shovel. Choose some out-of-the-way pockets to nestle groups of bulbs in front of shrubs, at the base of deciduous trees or in areas of low-growing ground covers.
For repeat-blooming flowering bulbs to return each year, you must allow the foliage to turn mostly yellow before you cut it. This allows the plant to store sufficient food (produced in the green leaves) in its bulb to bloom the next year. If the bulbs are growing in a location where you intend to plant something else, they may be lifted, stored and replanted in fall.
Although the proper time to plant most bulbs is late October through early December, tulips and hyacinths will perform much better if they are refrigerated for about eight weeks in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator prior to planting. Store them in paper or net bags (well labeled!) away from apples and other fruit. Plant these bulbs in late December or early January when the soil has had a chance to get cold.
Most all of the spring bulbs available locally or in catalogs will bloom for us their first year. The following spring bulbs are some that tend to be reliably long-lived and bloom for several years at least: Narcissus cultivars/Paperwhites, Chinese Sacred Lily, Soleil d’Or, Grand Primo, Cheerfulness, jonquils, Sweetness, Trevethian, Peeping Tom, February Gold, Thalia, Ice Wings, Petrel; larger-flowered daffodil cultivars such as Ice Follies, Carlton, Fortune and Unsurpassable. Other reblooming bulbs include snowflake (Leucojum aestivum), ground orchid (Bletilla striata), amaryllis (Hippeastrum species and hybrids), Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica), spring star (Ipheion uniflorum), Dutch iris (Iris x hollandica) and Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum).
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.