Spring-flowering bulbs should be purchased and planted in the fall. If purchased in September you will have the best selection of size and variety. When selecting bulbs, avoid those with mold or mechanical damage. Bulbs can be purchased from bulb catalogs, open bins, and convenience prepacks. When selecting from an open bin, purchase bulbs that look like the others in that bin; sometimes bulbs are inadvertently placed in the wrong bin.
Bulbs can be planted until late October, but plant early in September for best establishment. Plant bulbs deeper than seed, usually three to four times the diameter of the bulb. Bulbs prefer a sandy or clay loam soil. Be sure and plant bulbs with the growing tip up. After plants bloom the following spring, remove spent blossoms and apply a light application of a balanced fertilizer. Do not remove the foliage until it has withered and yellowed and is easily pulled from the soil.
Hybrid tulips that fail to bloom as a result of overcrowding should be divided. Bulbs can be dug and divided at two times of the year. The first is after the leaves have withered and yellowed in late spring. Dig bulbs with a spading fork and spread them out to dry for several days. Sort by size and discard any soft, mushy bulbs, or bulbs that have mechanical damage from digging. Store the bulbs in a well- ventilated, cool, dry place until they’re ready to be planted in the fall.
Bulbs can also be divided in mid- to late August. Dig, sort and plant as usual, but plant only the largest and undamaged bulbs.
There are many bulbs to choose from including tulips, which are available with an early, mid- or late-season bloom. Daffodils or narcissus also offer a variety of height, colors, flower types, and blooming periods. Typically, daffodils can be left in the ground for many years. They are deer resistant, which makes them ideal if you have frequent visitors to your garden.
Crocus are also associated with spring. This early bloomer — the first harbinger of spring — is available in many colors. Crocus make an excellent garden edging, can be massed together for effect, or randomly planted in the turf.
Other early bloomers include snowdrop, grape hyacinth and scilla.
For “How to Force Bulbs Indoors” refer to PlantTalk 1319.