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Plan now for spring-flowering bulbs
By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

Bulbs in bloom are one of the first signs of spring, but they won’t be adding color to your garden if you don’t plan for them. Now’s the time to thumb through catalogs, search Web sites or visit a garden center to buy bulbs, says University of Georgia Cooperative Extension horticulturist Paul Thomas.

“Georgia is a great place to grow bulbs,” he said. “Most species on the market do well here, and they are drought tolerant.”

Buying bulbs is the first step. The second is waiting for the right time to plant them.

Thomas tells home gardeners in north Georgia to wait to plant bulbs until Oct. 1. In south Georgia below Cordele, he says that’s a good date to place bulbs temporarily in the refrigerator. Without the appliance’s help, many bulb species in this region of the state won’t get enough cold hours to bloom properly.

Chilly bulbs

North Georgians can also take advantage of the refrigerator method.

“One of the tricks is to put the bulbs in a bag of moist peat moss and then put the bulbs in the vegetable crisper for about three weeks,” Thomas said. “Then you can put them in the coldest part of your frig or freezer, right next to the ice cubes.”

On a nice warm day in December or January, take them out of cold storage and plant them in the cold sod in full sun.

“You need to put them in the ground in December or early January because they still need to grow roots,” he said. “If they don’t, the flowers will die very quickly.”

Mulch the bulbs with leaves, and water them in.

Leaf blanket

Every year, Thomas notices bulbs that bloom way before spring has sprung. The reason for this, he said, is that the soil warms up too quickly and the bulbs think it’s time to start growing.

To prevent this, bulbs need to be mulched each year with at least two inches of leaf litter. Thomas uses four to five inches of wet leaves and then takes the extra off in late February. For time-stressed gardeners, two inches is plenty, he said.

Once the planted bulbs are covered with leaf litter, sprinkle bone meal over the top “nice and heavy,” Thomas said.

It can also be added to holes and mixed into the soil when bulbs are planted. Bone meal provides bulbs with calcium and will leach through the mulch throughout the winter.

In the spring, fertilize bulbs with 10-10-10 when the flowers are still in the bud stage. To keep from damaging the flowers, run a handful of fertilizer evenly on the ground between the plant’s foliage. Then water the fertilizer in thoroughly.

“Adding fertilizer post-bud-break does wonders for daffodils,” he said. Much of the fertilizer added in the winter is lost to heavy rains and leaching so it’s better to wait until after the blooms form.

Brown leaves

Gardeners with time on their hands will often braid leaves of bulbs, especially daffodils, that have bloomed out.

“The leaves of most bulbs definitely do not look very nice after it warms up in Georgia,” Thomas said.

Braiding does not hurt the leaves, but an easier solution is to cut the leaves to within an inch of the ground. Wait until the leaves turn yellow, or the bulb will not get all the nutrients it needs for next season.

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.)

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