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Fall bulbs: What to plant now

Sep 16th, 2010 | Category: Growing

by Chuck McClung

Remember way back in late winter you saw those spectacular purple and yellow crocus blooming? Remember last spring seeing those little short tulips in that rock garden down the street? Remember those pink cupped daffodils? Remember how much you’ve been trying to remember to go get some bulbs this fall and plant them for next spring? Well, here’s your reminder; now is the time to start cruising for bulbs.
“Fall bulbs” are so named because we plant them in the fall for the flowers they provide the following spring and summer. Fall bulbs include late winter/spring blooming hyacinths, tulips, daffodils, crocus and bluebells, but also include some cold hardy summer bloomers like Asiatic and Oriental lilies.
But, why do we wait until fall to plant these bulbs? Why are the bulbs in the stores, if we are supposed to wait until fall to plant them?
The reason bulbs are sold so early before we plant them is simply … that they can be.  As long as the bulb has gone dormant for the year, it can be dug and sold. Each year growers and retailers compete to stock and sell their crop as soon as possible.
We want fall bulbs to remain dormant through the fall and winter. Therefore, we wait until mid-October to plant them once the soil temperature has cooled down. If we plant fall bulbs early in September, when the soil is still warm, they may try to grow before winter which can reduce flower size and overall vigor. Exceptions are bearded iris and fall-blooming crocus which should be planted right away.
So why bother to buy bulbs so early if we have to wait to plant them? Because many of the cool, new, and interesting varieties will have surely sold out by the time for planting! Just store your bulbs in a cool, dry place like a garage, basement or cellar.
When price comparing packaged bulbs, be sure to estimate the actual cost per bulb. Bulbs are packaged in quantities ranging from 1 to 100 or more, and true costs per bulb can be confusing if the bulb count is not considered.
When selecting bulk bulbs or packaged bulbs a good rule of thumb for a given variety is “bigger is better.” Also be sure the bulbs are firm and hard, not soft and squishy. Bulbs in packages should be dry and free of mold or moisture.
When selecting bulbs for the garden or in pots remember to consider the height of the plant. Tulips and daffodils, for example, can range in height from four inches to over two feet tall. Dwarf iris, crocus, and rock garden tulips remain under 6-8” tall, while King Alfred daffodils and Emperor tulips approach two feet tall.
Be sure you know the flowering time for the bulbs you purchase. For instance, there are fall blooming crocus like the saffron crocus and spring (late-winter) blooming crocus that come in purple, white or yellow. Also consider bloom time when planting bulbs in combinations. You can plant bulbs that flower in succession throughout the spring, or you can plant different types of bulbs that all bloom simultaneously.
For more information, I’ll be giving a free seminar Planting Fall Bulbs for Spring Color, at Bakerview Nursery on Saturday, September 18, at 10 a.m. Hope to see you there, and happy planting!
Chuck McClung helps others solve their gardening dilemmas and can be reached at

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