Planting Fall bulbs

September is by far the very best time of year to purchase your fall bulbs.  When those new varieties start showing up, I start getting excited about spring again just thinking about all the flowers popping up through the snow.  The best time to plant is in October, so don’t get too excited to plant now.  Let me explain.  If you wait to purchase bulbs until October, many varieties will have sold out, and the selection will be limited.  Planting bulbs too early can cause even more problems.  Let’s say I can’t wait any longer to plant my new lilly-flowering tulips since the deer won’t eat them with the new repellent and I can finally enjoy them in my yard, so I go out and plant them this week.  If the weather stays warm and wet for the rest of the fall, those bulbs will start to grow.  Too much growth this season could damage the bulbs and prevent them from flowering next spring.  Don’t plant too early.
When selecting new bulbs always look for the largest Dutch bulbs you can find.  Don’t get me wrong, US grown bulbs are good, but the Dutch grown bulbs are the best, hands down.  The size of the bulb is directly related to the size of the flower when it comes to tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, and crocus.  You might pay a little more at the local garden centers over the national chain stores, but you will definitely find larger, better quality bulbs that will produce for you for years to come.  Don’t skimp when it comes to purchasing bulbs.
You will be amazed at the selection of bulbs available this year.  I don’t think I’ve seen a better choice ever.  Every color in the rainbow (and a bunch of combinations) fill the shelves.  Of the different varieties there are early, mid-season, late, parrot, double, lilly flowering, and viridiflora tulips just to name a few.  Let’s just say that there are more varieties and colors available than most gardeners will plant in a lifetime.
The first thing I do before planting is till the garden.  A 2-3 inch layer of compost and a little humate will do wonders for your bulbs.  It is so easy to plant when the soil is loose and fluffy after tilling and the humate brings nutrient out of the soil and helps break down the compost into wonderful, dark soil.  A little fertilizer wouldn’t hurt either.
When planting, it doesn’t matter how large or small you dig your hole.  I like to plant in groups of 7-10 bulbs so I dig 12-14 inch holes about 4-6 inches deep.  Don’t plant the bulbs too shallow or too deep, as they will either freeze during winter or just won’t bloom.  After I get the holes dug, I fertilize with either a bulb food or bone meal.  About 1 teaspoon per bulb works great depending on the fertilizer that you use.  Always check the directions first.
The biggest concern with tulip bulbs for us, at least, is the amount of deer damage that they receive in our area.  Few repellents work well enough to deter the deer from their favorite springtime treat.  We have had good luck with Deer Stopper from Messina, Liquid Fence, but it is so stinky that it repels people as well as the deer, and This-One-Works from Ferti-lome.  I’ve heard that Plant Skydd is great as well, but I’ve never tried it.  If nothing else works, a nice sheet of chicken wire over the newly emerged tulip leaves has been successful for us.  At any rate, you could plant 1000 daffodils, with 10 tulips in the middle of them, and the deer would eat the 10 tulips and leave the daffodils.  Frustrating.
Last but not least, water the bulbs.  Two years ago I planted 300 daffodil bulbs in front of our house.  It was early November, which usually isnt a problem, but that year the ground froze yearly and there was a skiff of snow on the ground.  As the sun came up, the soil thawed out a bit and I was able to plant.  I neglected to water after I was done and figured the snow and rain of November would take care of it.  I was wrong.  It didn’t snow or rain again for weeks and the already dry soil sucked all the moisture from the bulbs and killed them.  That following spring  only  10-12 bulbs bloomed.  Please water your bulbs, especially as dry as the soil has been this season.
Get out there and buy those bulbs now.  Hang on to them and plant in October and youÕll get the results out of them that you desire next spring.  And if you’re interested, I’m teaching a bunch of free classes on forcing bulbs this fall for various civic and religious groups, as well as here in the store.  It’s a lot of fun and very rewarding when they start blooming in January and February.

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