In the Garden

Ralph Purkhiser, Purdue University Master Gardener


     It is time to think about the spring garden.  That may seem odd when you look out and see the blooms of summer dominating the landscape, but if you have specific desires for flowers for the spring, now is the time to order the bulbs.

      Over the past month or so, I have received dozens of bulb catalogues and flyers.  I have tried to limit myself to looking at only a couple to see the new offerings, but they beckon me from the shelf under the television where I stash them.

     While I usually encourage readers to purchase perennials and annuals from local garden centers and nurseries, when it comes to bulbs, mail-ordering is the way to go.  Certainly, before long, bulbs will start appearing in stores, but the stores do not tend to have a great selection.  At most, they will offer a dozen or so varieties of any species, and they will not have the new introductions. 

     The center of the bulb flower world is Holland, and the best bulbs come from that tiny country.  Look for a catalogue indicating that the bulbs are imported from Holland.   The Dutch know how to produce premium bulbs.

      Take your time looking through the bulb catalogue.  You may want to compare more than one company to find the best prices.  Often, you will find similar bulbs with different names.  That is because a company will name the bulbs produced in its gardens and the competitor may select a different name for a very similar flower.  You may also notice a great difference in price, but pay attention to the size of the bulb being offered.  The larger the bulb, the more stems it will produce and the more flower you will get.  Small bulbs may not bloom at all the first year.  My advice is to buy the largest bulb you can afford.  If you must buy small bulbs, be prepared to wait a couple of years for the bulb to grow into a premium size to really see flowers like the ones pictured in the catalogue.

     That being said, bulbs can get pricey.  It is not unusual for a premium daffodil bulb to cost over two dollars.  Most companies sell only in multiple packs of six to ten bulbs, so establishing a large areas in daffodils can get expensive.  In general, the newer hybrids will be more costly than the older varieties.  Be aware that just because something is new, it is not necessarily better.  Some of the new varieties have not been tested for performance over a decade.  Some bulbs will multiply quickly and establish a swath of flowers in your yard, while others may remain as just a single specimen for several years.  Do your homework and find out as much as you can about the variety that has caught your eye in the catalogue.  If it says the bulbs are good for naturalizing, it means that they will reproduce and spread over an area in just a few years.

     I also recommend that you find out what growing conditions are needed for the plants you want to grow.  In general, most spring bulb flowers are sun-loving plants.  However, the ones that come up in late winter and early springs are often growing and blooming before deciduous trees leaf out for the summer, so it is possible to plant them within the tree canopy.  Most bulbs tend to rot if there is standing water, so it is best to avoid low places.

     Another consideration is what you expect after the bulbs have put on their spring show.  The bulb needs for the foliage to remain as long as possible, so that photosynthesis can continue to feed the bulb.  Therefore, it is best to plant bulbs among other perennials whose emerging summer foliage will hide the dying bulb foliage and keep you garden looking nice.

     In most cases, once you have planted spring bulbs, you will be rewarded with beautiful flowers for many years.  They are certainly worth the effort.  Get your catalogue out or go to a website and get to ordering.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          


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