Buried treasure: Fall planted bulbs are spring garden gems

As the season tapers into fall this month, we wrap up another beautiful Montana summer. While our gardens may be getting ready for their winter's rest, a little planning ahead this time of year can charm you with plentiful blooms next spring. With a small investment and a little work, fall planted bulbs offer beginner and Master Gardeners alike an abundance of early color and fragrance to welcome spring. Since bulbs are large and easy to handle, they are great for kids to plant, making this a fun fall activity the entire family can enjoy. The best part- many naturalize and get better each spring, providing years of beauty and enjoyment.

September and October are the best months for planting hardy bulbs that bloom in the spring since the warmer soil allows them to get well rooted before the ground freezes. If you already have swaths of yellow daffodils running through your garden, you may choose to incorporate unique varieties and other species that offer a mix of colors, sizes, shapes, textures and bloom times to expand your diversity. When selecting bulbs for your garden, be sure to choose several varieties that will overlap in bloom time including early, mid and late bloomers for a continuous vibrant spring display.

While tulips are a longtime favorite with a rich history, they are considered a tasty delicacy to deer and rodents. Members of the Amaryllis family, including daffodils, snowflakes and snowdrops are surely a safe bet against hungry critters.

Plants in this family contain lycorine, a bitter, poisonous substance, that no mammal will eat. Other bulbs like allium, hyacinth and fritillaria ward away pests with their strong odors but are not completely safe against hungry voles and pocket gophers tunneling beneath the soil. Hyacinths are highly fragrant and sweet smelling while fritillaria species, like crown imperials, smell skunky. 

Bulbs don't like to be too wet, so be sure to choose a place in the garden that offers rich soil, adequate moisture and plenty of sunlight. Woodland bulbs do enjoy a shady spot making trout lilies, snowdrops, Spanish bluebells, crocus, spring beauty and glory of the snow beautiful garden additions.

Since bulbs are much larger than seeds, they like to be planted quite deep, at least twice as deep as they are long. Always plant pointy side up and root side down. While this can be easier to determine for tulips and daffodils, rounder bulbs, like crocus, may require a closer look.

At the time of planting, use a phosphorus rich slow release fertilizer or compost to feed your bulbs. After planting, be sure to water them in.

Mulching over these newly buried treasures is a great way to keep them well insulated over winter. To keep your bulbs flourishing year after year, cut off spent blooms before they go to seed and allow the leaves to turn completely yellow before trimming back. By doing so, the plant stores more energy for bigger blooms the following season.

A simple, clustered planting of bulbs offers a beautiful, natural looking, layered effect. For this planting method, use a shovel to dig a large hole (approximately six-eight inches deep by a foot or more wide) and then toss in a handful of your larger bulbs like tulips, hyacinths, alliums and daffodils (deer may be less likely to devour tasty buds if planted closely to more resistant species). Be sure to make some adjustments by placing the tossed bulbs root side down and spaced about four to six inches apart. Add some soil to the hole and toss in your next layer of smaller bulbs like crocus and grape hyacinth. Once again, adjust for positioning as needed and be sure that these smaller bulbs are not planted too deep. Scatter these clusters of bulbs across your garden and enjoy the dazzling display of blended blooming next spring.

Spring blooming bulbs aren't the only garden gems to plant in fall. Summer bloomers, like hardy lilies, irises and many types of alliums, can be tucked into the garden this time of year too, providing a nice transition between spring flowering bulbs and other garden perennials. With fall planted alliums in mind, I encourage you to make garlic an addition to your garden this year!

If you are interested in learning about growing, harvesting, and preparing garlic, join Missoula County Extension for a Lunch and Learn class Oct. 17 from 12-1 p.m. at the Seeley Lake Community Foundation Building, 3150 Highway 83 N. Registration is $12. To sign up call Kelly at (406) 258-4206.

 

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