Fall is prime time for planting flower bulbs

  • Daffodil bulbs can be planted in the fall for spring blooming. (The Daily Triplicate file).

The Monday morning gossip ’round the water cooler is that spring bulbs will start arriving in Bend the first week in September. Some of you probably haven’t a clue as to what the first sentence means; ask a parent and it will probably evoke some memories of water cooler conversations at work, plus a few giggles.

Fall bulb planting time has arrived. The sooner you make your decisions, the better the available selections will be at local nurseries and garden centers. Mail-order bulb catalogs arrived in July and August, resulting in the likelihood of specialty bulbs being sold out.

Site selection is especially important for the gardener new to bulb planting. Most bulbs prefer a full sun planting location.

We automatically think of the south side of the house is a perfect site. That is probably the worst place. Our winter days are generally bright and sunny. The accumulated warmth from the foundation and the house siding may result in earlier blooming, but the heat will also put the premature emergence of the bulbs at risk for frost damage. Every year we usually experience a week of false spring in February or March followed by the back-to-normal freezing temperatures. Save the south side of the house for tomato planting in June.

Before you get all excited over planning a tulip garden, the red flag is up. Tulips are like a giant chocolate candy bar for deer. I tried tricking them by planting under a tree with very low hanging branches, yet one doe actually got down on her knees (if that’s what that joint is called) to strip the patch.

Many varieties of bulbs are available for early-, mid- and late-season bloom. With research and planning, you can enjoy blooming bulbs over an extended period of time. If you were to plan on using all three stages of bloom, it would work well to plant the earliest blooming furthest back, then the medium blooming, ending with the late blooming in the front of the bed. The dying foliage of the earlier blooms would be somewhat camouflaged with the freshest blooms.

Bigger is better when selecting bulbs. The bigger the bulb, the bigger the flower. Look for bulbs that feel firm and are unblemished. That is another reason to shop early before the supply is picked over. Remember to also purchase any bulbs you might want to force for indoor winter arrangements or for gift giving.

Bulbs take root best when the soil temperature has cooled down to 40-50 degrees. Time to get a soil thermometer if you don’t have one. Purchased bulbs should be kept cool and dry, usually in a paper bag, until planting time. If you miss the window for planting and the soil is colder, it is still better to plant than to store them.

According to the Deschutes County Oregon State University Extension fact sheet on spring flowering bulbs, the best time of year to plant in Central Oregon is the end of September through October. You want to make sure the bulbs become well-rooted (allow 2-3 weeks) before the ground freezes.

As a general rule of thumb, bulbs there should be 4-5 times the height of the bulb between the tip of the bulb and top of the soil. Be sure to plant the pointy tip up. You will want to add organic matter (1⁄3-1⁄2) to the native soil that you remove when you dig the hole for your bulbs. Phosphorous fertilizer does not move through the soil and therefore needs to be applied at the time of planting so that it is available to the roots. Commercial bulb fertilizers are complete and balanced and will contain some bone meal, which is high in phosphorus. Water well.

Existing bulb beds should be fertilized in early spring at the first emergence of the foliage and again after bloom time when the bulbs are storing up food for the following year. Once the ground is frozen, you should cover the bulbs with approximately 3 inches of mulch to prevent the bulbs from freezing and thawing.

Deer resistant bulbs include snowdrops, crocus, scilla, daffodils, grape hyacinth, fritillaria, Dutch iris and allium. Once the flowers bloom, cut them off, otherwise, seed production will occur taking some of the food sources away from the bulbs for next year. Foliage is left in place to die back naturally which is providing food and strength to the bulb.

— Reporter: douville@bendbulletin.com

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