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In the Garden

Plan spring color now

Between cleaning up the garden and raking leaves, there just doesn't seem to be enough time in the fall for anything else. If you can find the time though, a few extra hours of work can pay off by giving you months of colorful surprises in your garden next spring. Can you possibly squeeze a few more spring flowering bulbs into your landscape?

I add a big bag of odd colored daffodils every fall and love the unique bouquets I can pick from them each spring. By planting early, mid-season, and late blooming varieties of bulbs you can stretch the show into summer, so put down your rake and pick up a trowel. Local garden centers have been promoting bulbs front and center since August and hopefully they have some interesting ones left.

When choosing your bulbs, look for firm plump ones. Make sure they aren't squishy, moldy or bruised. Don't buy any that have already started to sprout. If buying through the mail, choose a reputable company. Often the bargain bulbs from those el cheapo mail order companies (you know the ones I'm talking about) turn out to be a waste of time and money. I've ordered some tulip bulbs that turned out to be so small they weren't even a respectable meal for a chipmunk! When your order arrives, check out the condition of the bulbs and if you can't plant them right away, store them in an open paper bag in a cool, dry location.

All bulbs appreciate well-drained soil with a pH of 6 to 6.8. Avoid planting in heavy wet soil or in locations where water stands in the spring; flooding will rot the bulbs.

Plant your bulbs in a spot where the foliage can be left to grow after the flowers have gone by. Healthy foliage growth is necessary to feed the bulb so it will bloom again next year. If you are naturalizing them in your lawn, you won't be able to mow that area until the bulb foliage has started to yellow. Plant them before the ground freezes so the bulbs can develop some root growth before winter.

If you are planting a large quantity of bulbs you don't have to dig individual holes. Dig up a furrow about a foot deep. Instead of a straight line, which looks too stiff and artificial, give it some graceful curves. Add compost, peat moss and well-rotted manure to the bottom of the trench and dig it in well before planting. This will be your only chance to enrich the soil below your bulbs, so make it as luscious as possible and you will be richly rewarded with breathtaking blooms in the spring.

According to the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center, no fertilizer is necessary since each bulb already is packed with everything it needs for next year's flowers. Fertilizer put in the planting hole can actually damage the bulbs or burn the roots. Avoid using bonemeal, which not only attracts small rodents but skunks and even the neighbor's dog.

You can get a lot of color in a small space by planting in layers. Prepare the area to be planted and dig a deep hole. Place the large bulbs in first at the deepest level. Add a layer of soil and plant the smaller bulbs next and so on until you have planted the shallowest ones last. You can combine bulbs that bloom at the same time for a jazzy effect or stagger the bloom times for a longer season of color. If you are planting a group of small bulbs in the lawn, lift a patch of sod and place the bulbs underneath, plop the sod back down and you're done!

For the earliest show, plant bulbs on a quick-thawing, south-facing slope, near the sunny side of the house, or in front of a heat-holding stone wall. Add an element of surprise to your family's day by planting early bulbs near the driveway and the front and back doors, and along the most used pathways to brighten up a dreary late winter day.

Fast forward to next spring and pick some new spots for spring flowering bulbs. Our Indian summer weekends make it easy to catch up on garden chores and yard work. Who wants to be indoors on a 70 degree fall day? Even though the calendar says fall is here, you can safely plant bulbs until the ground freezes. Look around your yard and think how much you would appreciate seeing the early color offered only by spring flowering bulbs. The best blooms of April and May need to be planted today.

For more information on bulbs and bulb planting, contact the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center at or visit their website: bulb.com.

That's it for me this year. Snuggle up with some good gardening books and seed catalogs this winter and start planning next season's garden. I know it will be the best one yet!

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