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Bulbs - When to Plant in the Fall

It’s Fall which means that spring-flowering bulbs have been on garden center shelves for weeks, but hold off planting them until night temperatures are consistently below 60 degrees. You can successfully plant them as late as December, but the longer you wait after October the less able the bulbs will be to establish themselves to bloom.

Bulbs offer a certain magic to the landscape, especially when planted in a mass planting.

In Walton County, we are in Zone 7B, which means that most spring flowering bulbs are completely hardy in Georgia.

Use spring flowering bulbs to make an impact in your garden to produce a showstopping pop of color.

The term "bulb" refers to true bulbs and other bulb-like structures such as corms, tubers, tuberous roots and stems, and rhizomes. Their primary function is food storage to ensure the plant's survival during adverse weather conditions. Distinguishing among these structures is important, since each is handled differently with respect to culture, propagation and care.

Examples of each of these types are pictured in the diagram on the left.

Most spring-flowering bulbs prefer light shade to full sunshine. Try to select a site that provides at least 6 to 10 hours of direct light per day. Also consider locating beds and plants where they will be aesthetically pleasing and effectively arranged in the landscape.

Always buy from a reputable dealer. Avoid bulbs that are soft or look molded or discolored. Bulbs should be firm and have unblemished skin. There is a direct correlation between the quality of the bulb and the quality of the flower produced - Bargain bulbs are no bargain!

If you cannot plant the bulbs right away, store them at around 60-65 degrees F. in a dry area.

Most bulbs prefer a moist, well-drained medium sandy loam that does not remain wet and sticky after heavy rain or dry out too quickly. A pH of 6.0 to 6.8 is best for most bulbs. Drainage is essential. If in doubt, test for drainage before planting. Dig a hole about a foot deep and fill it with water. The next day fill the hole with water again and see how long it remains. If the water drains away in 8 to 10 hours, the soil is sufficiently well drained to grow most bulbs.

If drainage is a problem or if the soil is too sandy or a heavy clay, you may need to use a soil amendment. Peat moss, bark, rotted sawdust, compost, perlite, vermiculite, coarse sand and many other materials have been used successfully. The type of amendment needed depends on the structure and texture of the existing soil, drainage, and the type of bulbs to be grown. Spread several inches of material on the soil surface and thoroughly incorporate it. In extreme cases, you may need to install drainage lines or construct raised beds to ensure good drainage.

Planting depth isn’t critical. Spring-flowering bulbs usually do fine if the top of the bulb is covered by a couple of inches of soil.

Plant the bulbs upright (rhizomes and tuberous roots are usually planted on their sides), and press the soil firmly around them. Water the beds thoroughly to help settle the soil.

Bulbs and corms can be gently pulled apart. Tubers and rhizomes may be cut into pieces, each division containing at least one eye. Tuberous roots can be split apart. Some tuberous roots, like dahlia, also require that a small piece of crown tissue remain attached.

Wash off any soil that clings to the bulb. The bulbs can be replanted immediately or stored for later planting. Store in a dry place away from sunlight, preferably at 60-65 degrees F. Be sure to provide good air circulation. Discard any bulbs that appear diseased.

There are two critical times to feed your bulbs. They need nutrients in the fall when they are planted and they need more in the spring when they have leaves. For every ten square feet of bed, sprinkle two cups of 10-10-10 fertilizer over the soil and dig it in as you prepare an area for planting. Use the same amount next March when the leaves emerge.

Special bulb fertilizers are available which do not force unneeded growth in fall but which give bulbs the nutrients they need.

Mulches or ground covers may be necessary to ensure winter survival of some bulbs. They not only minimize winter injury, but also provide a background against which little bulbs show to better advantage. Mulch also prevents mud-spattering from heavy rains that frequently spoil the flowers. Pine straw, bark, fall leaves, and many other organic materials make satisfactory mulches for bulbs.

For more information about how to select and handle the more commonly grown bulbs suitable for Georgia, go to - Flowering Bulbs for Georgia Gardens Bulletin 918.

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. Audrey Hepburn


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