Spring bulbs often benefit from fall-time planting

It is hard to get enthusiastic about spring bulbs while we are enjoying lovely fall days, but it is time to take a good look at those appearing in the garden centers and stores.

Maybe you are one of the people who studies the catalogs from Holland and thoughtfully considers the pluses and minuses of new bulbs before ordering them, or maybe you walk past a display as you are heading for a gallon of milk in the far reaches of the store. It doesn’t really matter where you see them, they all hold the promise of scent and color in the early weeks of 2014.

I always think of bulb planting in connection with frozen fingers and frosty soil, but it makes more sense to get those brown, papery objects tucked into the ground before things get that bad. Bulbs planted in fall will have time to start putting down healthy roots in cool, moist soil before it freezes.

For an early display in the spring, try scilla, crocus and snowdrops. They will bloom earlier if planted on the south side of the house in a spot that will be sheltered from cold winds and warmed by the sun.

Remember, they will bloom well before trees leaf out, so you can use spaces that will be shaded later in the year, but provide a lovely setting for spring blossoms.

If you are short of growing space, as I am, try a triple-layer planting.

Make a hole about 9 inches deep and settle in three tulip bulbs. Cover them with half an inch of soil and then put two or three daffodils on top. Cover them, and add the final layer of several crocus bulbs. The shoots will all find their way up to the light and should bloom with some overlap.

Several clumps like this will provide a pop of color. You also can plant a large container this way.

The ideal soil for bulb planting is damp and improved with compost or other amendment such as peat moss that will hold moisture but drain well. Fertilizer can be added at the same time.

Note I said “ideal.” I suspect most of us stuff our bulbs into the loose friable spots where annuals resided all summer. They don’t seem to mind.

I planted a lot of daffodils a year ago, and with my faulty memory promptly forgot where I had settled them in. It was a wonderful surprise to see them appearing in unexpected spots.

The previous year I gave my great-grandsons, Noah and Owen, a bucket of mixed bulbs that had been given to me by a friend of a friend. With a trowel and a sense of adventure, the boys planted them wherever they wanted. I really enjoyed those daffodils in the asparagus bed!

Part of the charm of the daffodils and tulips in my garden is their unpredictability. Some tulips that showed off their exotic shapes and colors revert to their forebears after a year or two, and it is like having a new supply, even though most of them are not in my favorite colors. But that early in the spring, who cares?

Some years, there are profuse daffodils, while other years seem to concentrate on fewer but larger flowers, leaving room to admire their sunshiny beauty.

There are many new cultivars available every year with novelties such as pink daffodils available.

One flower I keep trying to grow is a yellow hyacinth. I have bought bulbs that are supposed to produce yellow flowers many times, but have yet to see one in bloom.

I love hyacinths in pink and blue and white, and grow them in water in the house as well as in the garden, and will keep expecting that golden surprise.

So give in to the temptation when you see an attractive display of spring bulbs. For a small expenditure you can guarantee a burst of color appearing after a cold and dreary winter.

Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program. Contact her at janetdelturco@yahoo.com.