Spring Bulbs: Still Time To Plant Some Of These 10 Great Varieties

Spring bulbs in a formal garden setting

Yesterday I directed the planting of two thousand spring bulbs. We placed them individually in patterns and our very capable team dug them one-by-one into the ground. When they were finished, we dressed the bulbs with a thick layer of mulch and all stepped back to admire our handiwork. The garden felt as if it were bursting with energy with so much spring promise nestled snuggly underground. Continue reading

What To Do If Your Spring Bulbs Come Up Too Early

(Last week it was 70 degrees, now it’s 20)

Let’s face it. It’s hard not to stress when your daffodils start coming up mid-winter during a warm spell. With all the erratic weather we’ve been experiencing lately, early growth is becoming more and more common in spring bulbs. Not to worry, though. Your plants have seen it all before. And they’re built to handle a few temperature swings.

The underground world of bulbs

To understand why spring bulbs can weather a little early growth, it helps to take a peek underground.

Just like a seed, a single bulb contains the entire life cycle of a plant, including roots, food storage “leaves” and a flowering shoot. As soon as you plant it in the fall, a spring bulb starts growing.

The action begins in the bottom part of the bulb known as the basal stem. During the winter months, roots begin emerging from the underside of this base. As they penetrate the surrounding soil, they absorb water and other nutrients, which they store in the fleshy leaves of the bulb called scales.

In some flower species like alliums, a thin papery covering called the tunic protects the bulb’s scales from damage and drying out.

Papery thin tunic keeps bulbs from drying out

The scales’ job is to provide food and protection to the flowering shoot, which contains all of the above-ground parts of the plant, including stems, leaves and flowers. During the winter months, the shoot slowly grows upwards within the bulb underground.

In the spring, as temperatures rise, the bulb’s biological clock tells its leaves to break through the soil where they begin converting sunlight into energy for plant growth. A few weeks later, the flowering stems begin to emerge.

The key thing to remember is this: Leaf development occurs independently of flower development. The leaves might jump the gun, but flowering shoots need an extended period of time (between 5 and 7 weeks) before they begin sending their stems up towards the surface. Before that happens, the bulb has most likely weathered the warm spell and resumed dormancy.

Strategies for protecting early growth

If you see foliage poking up out of the ground too early, don’t worry. A cold snap may cause its leaves to yellow and die back, but your bulb will wait things out and send up new growth once temperatures warm up again.

There are a few strategies, though, you can undertake now to slow things down while adding an extra layer of protection to the flower shoot.

1. Cover your plant

Covering the soil around your spring bulbs will provide insulation against frigid temperatures and drying winter winds. Try mulch, straw, bark chips, leaves or pine needles.

Or, if the plant is budding too early, try draping a cloth over it (securing it above the plant with stakes.) Remove the drape during the day so the foliage can absorb sunlight to warm back up.

2. Water

Bulbs will rot with too much water, but if there’s been a dry period for a long period of time, providing them with a little extra water during the day helps the bulb expand and grow. Make sure your soil has good drainage, though.

3. What to do if flowers start to appear 

If the weather continues to stay unseasonably warm, your spring bulbs may start to produce flowers. Don’t worry. Even if frost kills off some of the initial buds, it usually doesn’t affect flowering in the coming months.

4. Plant bulbs late in the fall

The later you plant in the fall, the longer the bulb will take to sprout in the spring. Wait until the temperature is cold enough (40°F or below at night) to plant your spring bulbs. This will ensure they are fully dormant.

And make sure to plant bulbs at three times their height in depth with base down and bud up. Planting bulbs too shallow can cause premature growth.

For a list of popular spring bulbs and an expert’s recommendations on when and how to plant them, click here for my November post Spring Bulbs: Still Time To Plant These 10 Great Varieties.

 

Ten Minor Bulbs to Plant Now for A Big Bang In the Spring

shutterstock_152262311 (1)

Winter aconites blooming in the snow

One of my favorite places to visit in the early spring is Delaware’s historic Winterthur Gardens. The estate’s stunning 60-acre naturalistic garden has one of the finest displays of early spring bulbs around, all staged to flower successively in a colorful quilt woven of purples, pinks, blues, yellows and whites. And every year when the show begins on the garden’s famous March Bank, I vow that I will plant hundreds of these tiny bulbs the coming fall so that I, too, can bask in their miniature early-spring glory. Continue reading

Spring at Winterthur Gardens: Woodland Flowers Take Center Stage

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 10.46.20 AM

Growing up in Delaware’s Brandywine Valley, I looked forward each year to the first blossoms poking their tiny heads out of the cold ground on Winterthur Gardens’ March Bank. Planted over a century ago, the stunning display unfolds like a giant rose in the springtime, blanketing the dreary winter hillside with sweeps of vibrant color. For the area’s residents, the March Bank is the true harbinger of spring and always worth a visit just to witness the joyous arrival of the tiny woodland flowers. Continue reading