What to Buy
When purchasing bulbs, look for firm bulbs. Avoid bulbs with soft spots, mould or flaky defects.
When to plant
In our Maritime climate, mid-October to mid-November is an ideal time frame for planting spring flowering bulbs. During the fall bulbs develop their root system so they are able to send up the flower stalk when the soil becomes warm again in spring.
Plant where you will see and enjoy your bulbs. They may be planted in full sun (at least six hours of sun per day) or partial shade. Avoid areas with severe north or west winds.
All bulbs like a free draining well prepared loose, loamy mixture. If the soil is not a well draining type, bulbs will be subject to rot. If you have heavy clay soil, dig it up and mix it with sand, compost, peat moss or other organic matter and a handful of bone meal or bulb boaster per square meter. Bone meal is best put in the bottom of the planting hole (one teaspoon per bulb), as it doesn’t move readily through the soil.
Plant in clusters of colours or type (odd numbers are pleasing to the eye). You can use a bulb planting tool or hand trowel or use your garden spade for larger areas or groupings. Dig down to the depth needed (three times deeper than the bulb’s height). Push the bulbs into the soil and twist gently to ensure good soil contact. Be sure the bulb is right side up. Most bulbs have a more pointed end that is the top and the broadest end is the root end. Fill in soil over the bulbs and press down gently. It is very important to water in the bulbs to allow soil to settle around each bulb eliminating air pockets. You may want to mark the spot where you have planted the bulbs with a label.
Use bone meal or a bulb booster fertilizer when planting, then feed lightly again in the spring just before the plants flower and again after flowering is done. In the time between flowering and the leaves becoming brown, the bulbs are storing energy to re-flower the following year.
You usually don’t need to water spring flowering bulbs (other than when planting) up until the flowering stage. However, it is important to keep leaves growing as long as possible, so water if the season is dryer than normal. Summer flowering bulbs, like dahlias and gladiolas will need watering during dry spells. At that time, a heavy watering once a week is preferred to numerous light sprinklings.
Most spring flowering bulbs do not need staking, however, summer flowering bulbs like gladiolas and dahlias do well if a stake is placed next to the bulb at the time of planting thus preventing damage to the bulbs by accidentally driving a stake through it later.
This is a critical time for the bulbs to store energy for next year’s bloom. Fertilize and allow the foliage to die back naturally. With spring flowering bulbs, if you want to clean out the bulbs earlier to plant annuals you can lift the bulbs, leaving the foliage attached and replant in a trench until the foliage dies, then lift the bulbs, take off the yellowed leaves, clean and treat with a bulb dust and store in a cool dry location until planting again in the fall. Summer flowering bulbs can be lifted after the leaves become yellow or brown, or after the frost gets the leaves. Clean and dry bulbs, apply bulb dust and store in a cool dry place.
Select large bulbs that are firm and blemish free. Place moist soil on bottom of container being used. Bulbs should be close together, but not touching. Plant tulip bulbs with flat side toward outside of the container, stems will grow straight up instead of outward from the container. Fill the container with more moist soil. Leave one half inch between soil line and the top of the container. Water so that the soil is moist but not soaking. (A six-inch pot will hold three hyacinths, or six tulips, or six narcissus or twelve crocuses). Bulbs now need a cold period of 40F or 4C, for 12 to 15 weeks. (Note: Narcissus and amaryllis do not need cold treatment.) During this time, the bulbs are developing a root system. When shoots are 1-2 inches high move to a warmer area (50F or 10C) in your home. Place in a shady spot for a few days and then move to a more sunny location. When colour begins to show on the flower buds move to spot with bright light away from draft or heaters. Keep soil moist, turn the pot occasionally so that growth will be even and provide some support for tall growing varieties. (Note: Paperwhite bulbs cannot be reforced).
Leave neck of bulb above soil, water sparingly until shoot development begins then gradually increase watering allowing soil to dry between thorough watering. When flowering is finished, cut off the spent flower stalk but leave green leaves until they naturally start yellowing and fertilize to allow energy to be stored in the bulb for re-flowering. When leaves begin to yellow gradually let soil dry out completely and the foliage die down. Store bulb in cool dry place for a few months’ rest period then begin the process over again.