In The Fall, Think Spring!

In The Fall, Think Spring!

Give yourself a gift this fall: plant bulbs. The first benefit is that the planting takes you outside in the warm sun and cool air that is so pleasant on Cape Cod. Secondly, in the season where the shortening days and falling temperatures have people mourning the end of summer, you’re doing something hopeful that looks forward to spring. Both the act of planting in autumn and the anticipation of the flowers to come are life-affirming celebrations of the seasons, and this year in particular we need all the small festivities we can get.

Here are some tips for bulb planting in the next couple of weeks.

  • Scatter some organic fertilizer over the top of the area where you’re going to plant your bulbs. Some of this will get mixed into the soil when you plant, and the rest will amend the area from the top down. This is far better than putting fertilizer in the bottom of the hole when you plant your bulbs.
  • If you don’t have a formal style garden, plant your bulbs in groups not in lines. Some people gently toss the bulbs into the area and plant them where they end up. Others just dig holes that are just a bit random, but in a “puddle” not in strict formation.
  • Don’t bury bulbs too deeply. Research done over the past few years at Cornell University has demonstrated that tulips in particular do better when planted only three inches deep, and are then covered with about an inch or two of mulch.
  • If you want bulbs that are reliably perennial, plant crocus, narcissus and grape hyacinths. Tulips sometimes come back a second or third year, but they aren’t a bulb for long life in the garden. They are, however, so cheerful and colorful in the spring that they’re worth planting every year.
Narcissus, aka daffodils, often multiply and become substantial clumps over the years. To insure yours continue to thrive, fertilize them in the early spring and continue to top-dress with compost or a layer of mulch every year.
Crocus can be planted in lawns and allowed to naturalize. They will be up and flowering while the turf is still in winter dormancy.
If you’ve had a problem with rabbits or deer eating your tulips, consider planting them in large containers. Whisky barrels, livestock troughs or big wooden boxes work well.
The key to having your bulbs do well in containers is to use very large pots or boxes, and plant in new potting mix. With at least six inches of new potting soil under the bulbs, and three inches on top, the bulbs are less prone to being too wet and rotting. If you plant in the same soil where your summer annuals grew the partially broken down potting mix combined with the old roots of the annuals can keep the container too wet during the winter, leading to rotted bulbs.
Bulb planting (including garlic!) is a great activity for children. Make it a fall, family tradition and let your kids pick out the type of flower they want to plant each year.
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