So perhaps by now your daffodils or hyacinths have sprouted, announcing the advent of Spring. Then you chastise yourself for not planting spring bulbs in the fall like a contentious gardener. Don’t worry – you can still enhance your Spring display and then have those bulbs for the next year.
Foil-wrapped potted hyacinths sold at your local nursery or supermarket can be used for outdoor planting, just like bedding plants. Just slip them out of their plastic pots and plant them. They are a great way to dress up your deck, patio or porch in planters that say Spring is near, if not here.
What about sudden cold snaps? Briefly acclimate the bulbs to colder temperatures by placing them in a cold but protected porch, garage, or other cold area for one night. This will help toughen them up. Once settled outside in garden beds or containers, young bulb plants and buds can ride out light frosts, though fully open flowers and leaf tips may get the equivalent of freezer burn.
When planted outdoors, potted bulbs can last for weeks, even a month, when spring weather is still quite cool overall. Don’t buy fully-blooming plants; instead buy green and watch them grow. Any of the potted hardy spring bulbs are candidates for outdoor planting in spring, including tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, crocuses and more. All are widely available from floral retailers this time of year.
Slip off the plastic pot and plant the whole works into the garden or in large containers, just as you would flats of petunias or impatiens in early summer. If planting in outdoor containers, the larger containers better to insulate the bulbs from any late winter freezes.
Remember that color is only part of the story; many spring bloomers are fragrant, as well. Hyacinths are especially welcome near doorways, placed there to delight those coming or going.
The best method of planting is to dig and loosen the entire bed to the proper depth. Because the soil in a spaded bed is better drained and prepared, the planting will last longer.
Water the bulbs following planting. This will help settle the soil in the planting bed plus provide needed moisture for the bulbs to start rooting. Remember that the bulbs may have been planted 6 to 8 inches deep and the water needs to soak to that depth. Through the bud, bloom and early foliage stage, add about one inch of water per week if this amount has not been supplied from rainfall. Water with a soaker hose to keep water off the bloom.
One of the visual problems with spring bulbs is the foliage that remains after bloom. The foliage can become unsightly if the bulbs are planted in a public area of the landscape. Foliage should not be mowed off until it turns yellow and dies back naturally.
The foliage on the smaller bulbs such as snowdrops and squill will die back rapidly and cause little problem. The foliage on the larger bulbs like tulips and daffodils will take several weeks to die back. Keep in mind that after flowering, the plant needs the green leaves to manufacture food (photosynthesis) that is stored in the bulb for next year’s growth. If you mow off the foliage early, the plant can no longer manufacture nutrient reserves for next year. This results in a small, weak bulb which will gradually decline and die out.
When visiting friends or family, bring along a gift pot of daffodils or hyacinths plus a trowel. They are even great gifts and take-home treats for kids’ birthday parties.