Planting for Spring Surprises

Everyone I know loves being surprised. That’s the feeling I get in the spring when the first signs of crocuses appear in my garden beds and across my lawn. I planted the bulbs over 10 years ago and they still bring joy and a feeling of surprise when they pop out of the winter ground.

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The garden catalogs will soon be arriving with an abundance of new bulbs to choose from. Some basics things to consider for planting bulbs include:

1. Selecting the right bulbs for Kentucky. The UK College of Agriculture publication HortFacts 52-04 is a good reference to use in selecting bulbs recommended for Kentucky Gardens. Include different bulbs with different bloom times to help stretch the flowering season. Consider the mature height and color theme of the bulbs you select. Bulbs are perishable and should be purchased as fresh as possible and stored in a cool place until time for planting.

2. Locate the site for planting. Generally well-drained sites are best. Soil pH should be 6.0 to 7.0. If you have clay soil it is best to amend with compost or other organic material before planting.  Full sun is not necessary. Some bulbs can be planted directly in the lawn (for example my surprise crocuses) and others prefer to be naturalized on hill sides, areas beneath trees, or in more formal designed beds.

3. Mass plant for the most impact. Small bulbs should be planted in groups of at least 10-12 and large bulbs in groups of 5-6. For a more naturalized appearance avoid planting straight rows. Try planting in an oval shape, kidney shape, or a shape that fits the location.  You can show off bold border plantings along drives and walkways.

4. Plant bulbs between October 15 and end of November. Bulbs are planted in the Autumn because they require a chill period of 10-16 weeks before sprouting in the Spring. Small bulbs of about an inch in size should be planted in holes 5 inches deep about 1 to 4 inches apart. Large bulbs greater than 2 inch in size should be planted in holes 8 inches deep about 4 to 8 inches apart. This will help avoid frost damage and keep animals from digging them out. Add 1 ounce of bone meal per square foot to the bottom of the hole. Place bulbs with pointed side up and cover with half the soil removed from the hole.

5. When the bulbs make surprise appearances in the spring repeat fertilizing with 10-10-10 at a rate of 1-2 pounds per 100 square feet. Remove the flower organs after the flower petals fall. Allow the foliage to die naturally. Be sure to photograph and record the location of bulbs so as not to disturb them after the foliage is gone.

In Kentucky some bulbs are considered to be more of an annual flower. For example, Tulips generally will display the best show the first spring after planting and will require replacements in following years. Hope you enjoy your spring surprises!

Sumbitted by Julie Steber, Boyle County, Extension Master Gardener