Column, Looking Back

Time to buy spring bulbs

By Mary Ellen Shaw

You may not be ready to think about spring bulbs when fall hasn’t arrived yet, but now is the time to do just that! Finding the bulbs you want amidst the pandemic could be a challenge. It’s a good idea to begin the quest now especially if you want a choice of color and early/mid/late season varieties.

Your local garden centers will have the most popular bulbs namely, daffodils, tulips and hyacinths. But you may need to do some catalog or internet shopping to find varieties of these flowers with bloom times that span over the course of a month.

So why do bulbs need to be planted in the fall when most gardening chores are coming to an end? Most of the spring-flowering bulbs require a period of “chilling” or cold dormancy before they will begin to grow and bloom. In Vermont this happens naturally every year. So just plant the bulbs in the fall and they will get the required cold treatment. If you want to experiment with some unusual bulbs be sure to select ones that are hardy to Zone 3 or 4. I have found that protected areas allow flowers to grow that won’t succeed in open areas.

The root growth of the bulbs starts in the fall and then the bulbs rest throughout the winter. In spring when the warm temperatures arrive the blooming process begins and our gardens are full of color.

I enjoy planting bulbs as the cooler temperatures are pleasant for working outside compared to the heat we all endured this summer. Planting bulbs takes time and it is annoying to find squirrels munching on them. So how can you protect the bulbs from becoming “dinner” for them?

There are several methods, some easier than others. A quick method is to lay chicken wire over the area where you planted and stake it down. You can also plant bulbs in wire cages. Place the bulbs in the center of the cage and fill the edges with dirt so critters can’t gnaw around the edges. Some people also use crushed oyster shells in the planting area. The squirrels don’t like the sharp edges of the shells.

There are also scent-based products that critters find offensive. However, these wash away in the rain and require frequent applications.

I have tried chicken wire but for a flower garden that is 50 feet long like mine that is a lot of work and expense. So I just plant extra bulbs and accept the fact that I will be “sharing” with the squirrels. It’s hard for me to get mad when I see how happy they look with their treat!

It becomes a bit of a mystery when I find a bulb lying in the garden and have no idea where it actually belongs. I push it back into the dirt where I find it and in the spring when a “lone soldier” tulip appears I just chuckle.

This is a good time to take a look at your garden and plan the layout of bulbs you will be planting later on. When choosing colors I have found that lighter shades show up best against garden soil or mulch. Yellow, apricot, pale pink, light blue and white are much more visible than darker colors like purple or deep red. However, if you mix in some dark colors among the lighter ones they are showcased nicely.

I have found that squirrels are much less interested in digging up my daffodil and hyacinth bulbs than they are my tulip bulbs. For that reason I am always looking for a bargain when it comes to tulips. Usually the more bulbs offered per bag…the better the price. That way I don’t feel as bad when I don’t see all of them rise up in May.

Hyacinths are becoming my new favorite flowers. There are numerous color choices and they have a wonderful fragrance that truly speaks of spring. I plant them near the city sidewalk and people often stop to enjoy their scent and sometimes they snap a photo at the same time.

So shop around for bulbs, order now if you can’t find what you want locally but wait until October to plant them. Then settle back for the winter and look forward to seeing colorful flowers in the spring.

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