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All About Bulbs

by Miguel Mori
All About Bulbs

All About Bulbs

By Joanne Young

There is nothing more satisfying to a gardener than seeing those first early spring flower bulbs popping up from the cold ground. These little sprouts soon bloom into gorgeous blossoms, brightening up your garden for the start of a great growing year.

What is a bulb?

“A flower bulb is an underground storehouse and flower factory.  Within the bulb is everything that the plant will need to sprout and flower at the appropriate time.”

There are different forms of bulbs:

True bulb – e.g. Daffodils, Tulips, Hyacinths, Onions

Corms – e.g. Crocus, Gladiolas

Tubers – e.g. Begonias, Potatoes

Rhizomes – e.g. Irises

Storage Roots – e.g. Dahlias, Carrots

Fall Bulbs vs. Summer Bulbs

Fall Bulbs

- winter hardy-can be left in the ground year after year

- plant in the fall

- blooms early spring-summer

Summer Bulbs

- tender-must be dug up in fall

- plant in late spring

- blooms summer to fall

Choosing The Right Bulb

  • Choose bulbs that are not bruised or marked up
  • Choose a larger size bulb when possible – the larger the bulb the larger the flowers will be. 
  • Very small bulbs may not bloom until the second or third season.
  • Make sure you choose bulbs with staggered bloom times to extend the length of colour in your spring garden.
  • Consider the height that the bulbs will grow to be and the height of the surrounding plants.

When, How and Where To Plant

The best time to plant fall bulbs is from mid-October to mid-November, before the ground freezes.

Bulbs prefer loose, porous soil with lots of organic matter and good drainage.  Too wet of soil can cause bulbs to rot.

Most bulbs prefer a sunny location – but remember that they just need sunlight until the time that they go dormant.  So if a location receives sun in early spring, but is shaded later by overhead trees, they should still thrive.

Plant bulbs in larger groupings in order to have a more dramatic and instant show of colour.  An odd number of bulbs in a grouping is best.
Plant bulbs pointed end up.

Follow the directions on package for planting depth.  If there are no instructions provided, plant bulbs at a depth that is equal to 3 times the diameter of the bulb itself e.g. if a bulb is 2” in diameter, plant 6” deep.

Once the hole is dug mix in bone meal into the soil at the bottom of the hole.  Place bulbs in the hole.  Backfill the hole with amended soil, gently packing the soil as you go.  Water thoroughly.

If you want to achieve a natural effect, take a handful of bulbs and toss them into the air.  Plant the bulbs wherever they landed

The Double-Decker Effect – Plant smaller bulbs in a layer overtop larger bulbs – If you plant bulbs that flower at the same time, it creates an interesting two-tiered effect.  If you plant bulbs that bloom at different times, it extends the period of time that you are getting colour out of that same space in your garden.

Tips to discourage squirrels from digging up your bulbs:

Use blood meal or Critter Ritter on top of soil above bulbs – Blood meal has to be reapplied after rain.  Critter Ritter scent remains for about 1 month.
Collect hair from the hairdresser’s and place on the soil where bulbs have been planted – needs to be reapplied every couple of days
Put soap shavings (Irish Spring) on soil area
Place chicken wire over bulbs – bulbs will grow through, but squirrels cannot get to the bulbs
Once bulbs have been planted, tamp the soil down – makes it harder to find the area where they have been planted.  Cover area with mulched tree leaves.
Plant bulbs just prior to the ground freezing

What To Do With Summer-Blooming Bulbs In The Fall

Bulbs that are planted in the spring need to be dug and stored inside for the winter – i.e. Canna, Calla lilies, Begonia tubers, Gladiolas etc.

Once frost has blackened leaves, dig up plants including the bulbs
Cut off the top off plants just above the bulb itself.
Remove all soil from bulbs and roots
Let bulbs dry off before storing
You can treat the bulbs with a fungicidal dust to cut down on the chance of mildews
Store bulbs in a material that breathes such as paper bags, cardboard baskets, open baskets, bushel baskets or mesh bags.  Never store in closed plastic bags or containers.
Store in a cool, dark, dry place such as a fruit cellar.  Do not let bulbs freeze.

“A flower bulb is an underground storehouse and flower factory.  Within the bulb is everything that the plant will need to sprout and flower at the appropriate time.”

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