2008-11-06 / Family

Plant Bulbs, Flowers This Fall For A Beautiful Spring

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Colorful spring flowers will replace the dull white of winter, if you invest a little work and preparation in the autumn. Your garden can be in constant bloom from January to July using these helpful suggestions.

Optimum planting time for spring flowers falls between Sept. 15 and Nov. 30 in Pennsylvania. "It's easy to plant spring flowers and not only do they last for years, but they also brighten the winter landscape even when it's still snowy," says Jim Sellmer, associate professor of ornamental horticulture in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

Snow drops, or Galanthus, are the first flower of the spring.

"They're the small, white, bellshaped flowers blooming in yards in late January," says Sellmer. Snow crocus follow, providing more colors against the white backdrop of snow. Also blooming in early spring are Winter Aconite, a low-growing plant with small yellow flowers, and- Chionodoxa, which are rapidly multiplying blue, white or pink starshaped flowers.

Blooming in March and April are anemone blanda or Grecian wildflowers, which have aster-shaped purple, pink or white flowers.

Giant crocus bloom during the same period, as do Iris Reticulata, which grow only 5 inches tall and resemble other irises. Sellmer explains that "other, more familiar, flowers bloom during March and April such as daffodils, both miniature and trumpet; hyacinths; and doubleearly Fosteriana and Kaufmanniana tulips."

Tulips begin to bloom in April and May. "Checkered lilies and Spanish bluebells, some other interesting small bulbs, bloom during this time," says Sellmer.

Many types of lilies bloom during June along with Dutch irises and alliums, which are near-perfect spheres of purple flowers resting atop a thick stem. "German irises are the large, familiar, bearded flowers with a fruity scent," Sellmer says. "These flowers grow from rhizomes that are planted 3 inches deep and will grow until the end of July."

When planting, don't overlook a plot of soil because it's shady in the fall. If the trees around it lose their leaves, it could be a sunny space in the spring. Bulbs can be planted any time in the fall as long as the ground is still soft enough to dig in.

Plant your flower bulbs pointed end up and at a depth of three times their diameter; for daffodils, this is about 6 to 8 inches while smaller bulbs can be planted 3 to 5 inches deep. Add bone meal or superphosphate to the soil when planting bulbs to encourage root development.

To fertilize your spring bulbs, add five tablespoons of 10-10-10 soluble fertilizer plus two cups of bone meal per 10 square foot area and repeat this application when shoots break through in the spring.

"If you plant large blubs, cover them with 2 inches of soil and plant smaller bulbs on top of them you can fit a lot of bulbs into a single space," says Sellmer. "While you're waiting for the bulbs to bloom, you can plant shallow-rooted annuals on top of your flowers."

If your soil has a high clay content, work organic matter, such as compost or peat moss, into the top 12 to 18 inches to improve drainage.

"By adding a 3-inch layer of wood chips or bark to the top of the soil, you can retain moisture and prevent mud from splashing onto your spring flowers," he explains.

If rodents find your bulbs appetizing, you can surround the bulbs with a cage made of hardware cloth. Or you can spread fine-mesh chicken wire over the top of the soil and spread mulch if you anticipate a rodent problem, says Sellmer.

Once your flowers bloom, remove any fading foliage so falling seeds don't rob nourishment from the existing bulbs. "It is important to let the foliage die completely before you remove it so that it can gather nutrients for growth during the next season," says Sellmer. "Planting spring-flowering bulbs is easy and doesn't require much attention besides these few steps. Your flowers will bloom for years to come and brighten the last, long months of winter."

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