Fall bulbs for spring colour

Garden Chat

I’m not admitting that summer is over, but now that we’re into September, we can’t pretend that fall is not around the corner. That means it’s now time to start planning for spring colour by planting bulbs. It’s truly an act of faith when you put a dry dormant bulb into the ground in the fall, watch the leaves on the trees drop and then expect flowers to develop in the spring from seemingly so little.
There are thousands of different species and cultivars of bulbs (and bulb-like plants) available to Prairie gardeners.  Besides the more common reds, yellows, whites and purples, there are tulips with fringed edges, with splashes of green, doubles, multi-colour, striped, tall, dwarf, early spring, late spring, and more. Beyond tulips, there are lilies (Lilium), ornamental onions (Alliums), squill (Scilla), striped squill (Puschkinia), grape hyacinth (Muscari), snowdrops (Galanthus), some fritillary species (Fritillaria) (but not the crown imperial fritillary), iris and more. Sadly, crocus, narcissus, and daffodils are seldom reliably hardy and hyacinths and paperwhites are definitely not.
Size matters! Bulbs – particularly tulips, daffodils and lilies – are graded and priced according to size and so we can expect to pay more for larger, premium sized bulbs. Purchase the largest specimens that you can afford. Large bulbs mean vigorous plants with large flowers. Avoid damaged, moldy, or soft bulbs.
Timing: as soon as purchased, and before freeze-up.
Location: sunny, weed-free and well drained. Snow cover is important.
Planting depth: regardless of species or cultivar, bulbs should be planted at least three times deeper than they are tall. For example, if the bulb is 5 cm tall, make the hole about 15 cm deep. Plant slightly deeper in sandy soil.
Planting: Dig the hole 5-10 cm deeper than required. Add some bonemeal, bloodmeal or 11-52-0 fertilizer (or similar fertilizers with a high middle number) to the soil in the planting holes. Add back enough soil to make the planting hole the proper depth. Place the bulbs, pointed end up, in the bottom of the hole. Cover them with the remaining amended soil.
Plant bulbs in groupings of five or more for a natural look and to increase the visual impact of a massed planting. You can also plant mixtures, such as tulips together with ornamental onions or lilies, to extending their blooming period and to add interest. Plant the largest bulbs at their proper depth, cover them with soil and then plant the next largest at a shallower level (e.g. plant lilies at 25 cm and tulips at 15 cm).
Small species and cultivars such as squill, grape hyacinth, snake’s head fritillary, Michael’s fritillary, and the tarda tulip (Tulipa tarda) should be planted near the front of your border or near a path where they can be seen. Larger species such as tulips, lilies, and ornamental onions can be planted further back to be admired from a distance. Some small species like squill or Tulipa tarda can be planted under low creeping junipers (eg. Wilton’s or Icee Blue). The junipers will provide extra protection for the bulbs over the winter. And once the bulbs die down, the ground isn’t bare, so you don’t have to worry about disturbing them during the summer by planting something else to fill the space.
There is an old Chinese proverb: “When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other.” I say, throw caution to wind and spend both pennies on lilies! Speaking of lilies, check out the Canadian Prairie Lily bulb sale at Lawson Heights Mall in Saskatoon, September 28-29 from 10 am – 4 pm. Proceeds are used to support horticulture students at the University of Saskatchewan and Olds College.
Erl gardens in Saskatoon and recently started tweeting about it @ErlSv.
This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; saskperennial@hotmail.com ). Check our website (www.saskperennial.ca) or Facebook page (www.facebook.com/saskperennial) for a list of upcoming gardening events.

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