November 19, 2012

Last call for bulbs

This is your last call to buy and plant spring bulbs as well as to pull up and store summer bulbs. 

The relatively mild fall weather we’ve had has extended the planting season for spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils, tulips and crocus, and most are on sale right now. I usually think of October as the month to plant spring bulbs, but as long as the ground hasn’t frozen, you can still get away with planting them into November. The idea is to give the bulbs a chance to produce some roots but no shoots before winter arrives so they’ll be better able to take off next spring when the milder weather returns.

Forcing spring bulbs to flower during winter can be a lot of fun; it’s such a treat to see some vivid color indoors during the depths of winter. Since bulbs are on sale now, you can take a few chances to see what method will work best for you.

To force spring bulbs, plant several close together in wide, shallow pots using the same good-quality mix you use for houseplants and containers. The trickiest part is finding a place where they can rest at about 40 degrees for several weeks. An attached garage can sometimes work well. The larger bulbs — daffodils and tulips — need 10 to 12 weeks of chilling while the the smaller bulbs — crocus, grape hyacinth and scilla — need just six to eight weeks.

Paperwhites, those ultra-fragrant white daffodils, and amaryllis do not need any cold treatment at all. With these, you just pot them up and water them. The regular Amaryllis can sometimes be too large for a small space, and the tall flower stalks often get top-heavy and topple over. I prefer the dwarf, compact varieties of amaryllis. Each blossom is smaller, but you get more of them and the plant is more in proportion, to my eye anyway.

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