Fall-planted bulbs promise spring flowers

by How Does Your Garden Grow? By Sharon Daniels

Just as we are enjoying a few warm autumn days before we start preparations for winter, it also is time to think seriously about spring flowers.

Tulips, daffodils, crocus, squills, hyacinths are some of the garden flowers we anticipate and enjoy in March and April, but October and November are the months to prepare for them.

Spring-flowering bulbs should be in the ground this month before soil freezes and spading is difficult. If you don't finish in November, plant as soon as possible even if flowering may not be as prolific.

An important consideration is how tasty particular bulbs are to creatures, often rodcnts. I have, with mixed success, secured them in mesh bags or plastic boxes which strawberries once came in, to hopefully repel munchers.

You may want to consider an organic animal repellent, in spray or pellet form. Some sprays are applied before planting, repellents may be sprinkled on soil in early spring, depending on which product you select.

After preparatory spading, work compost or peat moss in the top 12 inches of soil for better drainage—important for bulbs—and you may choose to mix slow-release fertilizer in the soil. Water after bulbs are in the ground and if fall rains are infrequent, water weekly until winter.

If we have a warm spell, soil can heat enough to send a message to bulbs that they should stir. Cold and re-freezing soil can damage bulbs, causing them to have difficulty blooming, so once the ground freezes, cover your bulb bed with loose mulch to keep it at a fairly uniform temperature through winter. In spring, pull mulch back or if it is truly loose, bulbs can grow up through it.

Always on the lookout for deer-resistant plants, I bought bulbs I will plant for the first time. Saxifrage is a rockfoil whose name means “stone breaker.” The name possibly indicates a medicinal use for treatment of kidney or bladder stones, rather than something which breaks rocks apart.

This evergreen perennial forms a mat and the description promises “up to 1,000 cup-shaped white flowers.” It should look good in the garden year-round, This plant is adapted to alpine conditions so can take cold temperatures.

Warmer days are predicted next week, a good time to get my new bulbs on their way.

Sharon Daniels is a Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener volunteer.