We usually don’t think about planting flowers now, but did you know that to grow many flowers like tulips, daffodils, paperwhites, crocus, and hyacinths, gardeners plan ahead and plant them in the fall? How do they do it? They plant bulbs!
What is a bulb? You can think of it a bulb like a giant seed. Bulbs store enough food to enable them to grow and flower with no additional nutrients during the first year, kind of like a big lunch box.
Spring-flowering bulbs bloom throughout the spring months, and produce bright, cheery, and often fragrant flowers. They are often the first flowers of the warm weather and they signal that winter is over!
Unfortunately, once you see bulbs blooming, it is much too late to plant them in your own garden. Why? Many bulbs need a dose of cold winter weather to bloom. That’s why spring-flowering bulbs are planted in the fall. The exact timing depends on where you live, but they need to be in the ground before it freezes.
When first planted, the bulb develops its roots. It then lies dormant during much of the winter, but uses its stored energy to produce flowers and leaves when the weather begins to get warm.
If a bulb is not exposed to the cold temperatures it needs, it will usually still send out leaves when the weather warms, but it may not bloom or will have fewer flowers on shorter stalks.
Planting bulbs is fun!
Try planting some bulbs yourself! Find them in your local garden center or store. Healthy bulbs will feel firm when gently squeezed. Avoid buying bulbs that are squishy. These bulbs have not been stored properly, are dried out or perhaps rotted and will not grow well for you.
Bulbs like to be in a sunny spot with well-drained soil. If you cannot find a good place in your yard, or if you don’t have a yard, bulbs can also be planted in pots. Leave them outside, or store them in an unheated garage to keep pots from getting too cold. Remember that the bulbs need the cold temperatures to bloom, so they cannot be placed inside or a location that will stay too warm.
How to plant your bulbs. Many bulbs will come with packaging telling you how far apart and how deep to plant them. In general most bulbs like to be planted 2 to 3 times as deep as they are tall. Water your bulbs and keep ground moist while temperatures are above freezing. Remember your bulbs are down there growing their roots at this time. Do not water them too much! Bulbs can also rot if conditions are too wet.
Then…wait for spring. Maybe make a few signs to remember where you planted them like “Bulbs at Work” when temperatures are above freezing and they are still making roots and “Bulbs Sleeping” when they are lying dormant.
As the weather gets warm, enjoy your flowers! Once the bulb has finished blooming, the leaves will turn brown and die. The bulb will enter a dormant state through the summer, fall and winter months until it is time to grow again the next spring.