Who doesn’t think spring is on the horizon when they see the first daffodil in bloom? Spring blooming bulbs are easy to grow and enjoy, and now is the time to plant them.
Although daffodils are the most common spring flowering bulb, there are many other choices. Crocus bloom first, followed by early daffodils, then snowdrops, grape hyacinths, hyacinths and, finally, tulips. All spring blooming bulbs are planted in the fall. Once planted, the bulbs begin to sprout roots and stems in the cool, moist soil of late fall and winter. Eventually, foliage emerges and flower buds appear. The bloom period begins from late January through April, depending on the species and the type of weather we have that season.
When you purchase your bulbs, look for firm, blemish-free bulbs. The larger the bulb, the larger the flower will be in the spring. Planting depth is also determined by bulb size. Small bulbs such as snowdrops, crocus and grape hyacinth are planted an inch or so deep, while the larger daffodils and tulips prefer a deeper planting — at least two to three times the size of the bulb, deep in the ground.
Make sure the planting site is well drained and gets sunlight in the spring when the foliage is actively growing. When you purchase your bulbs, they contain everything they need for the growing season, so no fertilizer is needed at planting. If you were to cut the bulb in half, you would see the small flower, foliage and roots already contained inside. All they need is chilling — a minimum of 12-15 weeks of temperatures below 55 degrees will allow the stems to stretch and elongate. Long, cold winters give us taller spring blooming bulbs, while mild winters give us earlier blooming and shorter stems. Following bloom in the spring, the remaining foliage needs sunlight to manufacture food to replenish the bulb for the following year. Spring bulb foliage needs a minimum of six to eight weeks of green growth with sunlight to set flower buds for the following year. Early blooming varieties can be planted under deciduous shade trees because they can get sunlight before the trees leaf out.
Temperatures during blooming also affect how long the flowers stay in bloom. An early warm spring gives us early blooms, but they are very short-lived. A long, cool spring like we had last year ensures a longer blooming period. That’s why florists keep their cut flowers in a refrigerator because the flowers last longer when chilled.Bulbs are often listed as early-, mid-season and late-season. Early- and mid-season tend to keep their color longer, since temperatures are often cooler in mid-winter than late winter or early spring. When choosing spring blooming bulbs, think about the color scheme and bloom period. With proper selection, your spring display can last for months, starting with the early-blooming crocus and ending with late-season tulips.
Consider planting your bulbs in clusters of bulbs instead of diluting them by spreading them out individually throughout the yard. A mass planting makes a much bigger statement than a string of flowers. You can intersperse different bulbs in the same planting, placing the larger bulbs below and layering upwards with smaller bulbs, and finishing with a planting of winter annuals across the top. No fertilizer is needed at planting, but do water them and mulch the plants. You can fertilize your spring blooming bulbs when you see the flower buds emerging or as soon as the flowers finish. They need the available fertilizer after flowering to replenish the bulb for next season.
Don’t be alarmed if you see bulb foliage emerging in late fall or early winter. Bulbs are cold-tolerant plants and the foliage should take winter weather in stride.
Spring bulbs can be planted from October through mid-January, but November is the ideal time. If you have purchased bulbs and don’t have time to plant yet, you can get them started chilling by storing them in a cool location in your garage, or if you have an extra refrigerator, store them in an empty hydrator drawer — not the freezer. Plant no later than mid-January.
Janet B. Carson is an extension horticulture specialist for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.