Fall Is the Best Time to Plant Bulbs

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Now is a good time to plant spring flowering bulbs like daffodils , tulips, alliums and so many more. Bulbs are perhaps one of the most valuable and productive performers we can blend into the landscape. Planted and cared for properly, they provide life, color  and a sense of renewal after winter’s gray grip.

Good drainage is essential for spring-flowering bulbs. If the soil is mostly clay, mix in an organic amendment such as peatmoss, compost, aged bark, etc., up to 50% in volume, or plant in raised beds. If the soil is mostly sand, add an organic amendment to increase water and nutrient holding capacity. Soil pH is critical. The pH of the planting area should be in the 6-7 range.

The spring flowering bulbs we plant in fall require a set amount of cooling hours before they emerge and bloom. The technical term for the cooling requirement is vernalization. This prevents plants from flowering during a mid-winter warm snap only to get cold-injured after regular winter weather returns. To allow the bulbs to establish the necessary roots and achieve the required “chill hours” plant them in late fall when the soil is still relatively warm, but the squirrels have already stocked their winter stash and may leave them alone. That means hold off planting until soil temperatures are below 60°F. In North Carolina, this is usually late October to November. The plant will be able to spend more energy come spring producing blooms.

Some tips for success!Tulips

  • Choose well-drained, slightly sandy soil to keep your bulbs from rotting
  • Dig the proper hole – not too shallow or too deep. How do you know how deep? The bulb package will usually tell you.
  • Plant bulbs in tight groups for maximum effect and color , but not touching each other.
  • Cover bulbs with soil using only one-half of the soil removed. Water thoroughly! Finish covering bulbs with remaining soil.
  • Cover the bed with 2-3 inches of mulch.
  • Blend in sulfur coated slow release fertilizer into the rooting area at planting, at a rate of 1 rounded tablespoon per square foot.
  • If the fall is dry, water area as needed.

Are you interested in receiving our monthly newsletter with information about upcoming classes and other gardening news? Contact our office at 919-775-5624 to get on our Home Hort Listserve.

Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.