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Spring-flowering bulbs

POSTED: November 14, 2012 4:00 a.m.

Flowering bulbs can be a great addition to any garden.

Bulbs such as daffodils, hyacinths and tulips are usually the earliest flowers to bloom in spring. Many bulbs will grow for several years with little care, while others are treated as an annual and planted for only one season. They can be placed almost anywhere in the home landscape, including flower beds, pots and even in the lawn.

"Bulb" is a term commonly used to describe flowering plants that grow from structures such as true bulbs, rhizomes, corms and tubers.

All of these structures store nutrients to ensure the plant's survival during adverse conditions. Spring-flowering bulbs can flower between late winter and early summer, depending on species. They die back and become dormant throughout the summer.

In fall and winter, they begin to grow roots again in preparation for spring bloom.

Bulbs are best planted in partial shade or full sun, but blooms tend to do better when not receiving mid-day sun exposure.

They usually do best under deciduous trees because the bulbs will go dormant as the trees are beginning to fill in.

Bulbs require good soil drainage, so tilling in soil amendments such as compost or organic matter might be needed.

Ideal soil pH for bulbs is between 6.0 and 6.8, so fertilize according to your soil test results.

Remember, most lime takes around three months to break down for plant use, so it is important to plan ahead if you suspect your pH is too low.

In absence of a soil test, fertilize at a rate of 1-2 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet in the fall, and repeat this application in the spring as soon as shoots emerge.

Spring-flowering bulbs can be planted in our area from October through December.

Daffodils can be planted fairly early, but for most bulbs, wait until the average soil temperature is below 60 degrees.

You can check our local average soil temperatures at www.georgiaweather.net. Most bulbs require 12 to 16 weeks of chilling time to bloom properly.

In warmer areas, bulbs need to be stored in a refrigerator in a ventilated package until planting.

As a general rule, bulbs should be planted three to four times as deep as the width of the bulb. They should be spaced according to size: Small bulbs, 1-2 inches apart, large bulbs, 3-6 inches apart.

Contact the extension office for recommended spacing and planting depths.

Bulbs should be planted in masses for best results. Plant bulbs upright and firmly press soil around them. Lightly water the planting bed to help the soil settle. Cover the bed with 2-3 inches of mulch after planting. This will help insulate the bulbs and help maintain even soil moisture. Normal rainfall is usually sufficient for bulbs, but additional watering may be required to help prolong bloom.

Remove flowers in the spring after fading to prohibit seed formation. This will keep the bulb flowering in future seasons.

Leave foliage on the plants for at least six weeks, or until it turns brown. This helps maximize the food storage in the bulb for next year's bloom.

Bulbs will eventually become overcrowded and will need to be divided and replanted. Wait until the leaves are yellow and withered before digging up the bulbs. They can then be replanted immediately or stored in a cool, dry area and replanted in the fall.

Clark MacAllister is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706) 265-2442.

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