NATURALIZING BULBS FOR SPRING GARDENS
Bulbs That Flower Between March and May Should be Planted This Year
By Linda B. Gay, Horticulturist and Gardener | Photos by Linda B. Gay
We all like surprises, especially those botanical wonders that pop up in our garden during a Texas winter. These deciduous beauties emerge as the soil temperature cools off producing strap-like leaves in January and February. We might even have forgotten what we planted last year and this winter appearance has us excited and curious to see what this beautiful flower will become. Deciduous is another name for losing leaves or dying down and returning when the conditions are right.
To naturalize means to establish “into the wild” a flourishing non-native bulb or plant. Our Texas climate is very extreme and planting bulbs that adapt to our climate can be surprising, rewarding and exciting. One way these bulbs naturalize is by becoming winter growers, spring bloomers and summer dormant, just like many Texans! Another way to have bulbs return is to create well-drained soils with aggregate and rock so that the bulbs do not sit in waterlogged clay soils or rot from summer rains when dormant.
Spring flowering bulbs bloom in March through May and must be planted between October and December so that the bulb can root in, grow foliage and flower when conditions are right. The most popular spring flowering bulbs include narcissus/daffodil, Leucojum, ipheion, Dutch iris and Scilla. After blooming they die down to the ground and sleep for the summer, re-emerging in early winter.
Narcissus and daffodil are closely related; narcissus normally produces a cluster of flowers on one stem and daffodils have one flower per stem. These bulbs are poisonous so you don’t have to worry about wild animals eating them. Some of the popular narcissus plants include paperwhites, “Grand Primo,” “Erlicheer” and the sweetly fragrant campernelle.
One of the most frequently asked questions is how deeply should the spring flowering bulbs be planted. My general response is two times the depth of the bulb, so if the bulb is one inch from the nose to the root, plant two inches deep into the soil; this does not include the mulch layer. Daffodils and narcissus are larger bulbs and normally one and a half to two inches from nose to root, so they get planted three to four inches deep. Always make sure your soil is well drained by working expanded shale deep into the heaviest part of the clay; otherwise the dormant bulbs will rot during a wet summer.
Another frequently asked question is when to plant the bulbs. Gardeners share bulbs with family and friends regularly, so the answer is when you get them. Bulbs get divided after they bloom and will go dormant for the summer; I recommend using a plastic or clay pot with soil on the bottom of the pot. Put bulbs in a container, cover with soil and place in an area that gets watered; then hold until the bulbs sprout. You will have a better idea of what the foliage looks like and where to plant in the garden.
Perennial bulbs keep their foliage year round and include crinum, amaryllis and agapanthus. They should be planted in the garden right away as they keep foliage year round and do not disappear. These bulbs have long necks and should be planted with the necks halfway out of the soil.
Planting of bulbs in the garden should be done in mass groupings; do not line them up in a straight line or make a border. It is too hard to keep them from being “shoveled” when they are sleeping. I like to place them in circles and create triangle spacing within the circle. If planting bulbs two inches deep, space two inches apart; if three inches deep, three inches apart; etc. Bulbs reproduce better in full sun but can take a little filtered light. Remember our winters are cloudy with little sun so find the sunniest spot for your treasures to naturalize. Planting underneath a tree that loses leaves during winter makes a great little rock garden for your special bulbs.
Want to learn more about naturalizing bulbs? Attend our Heirloom Bulbs class on October 6 with Chris Wiesinger from The Southern Bulb Company.
The Arbor Gate
15635 FM 2920, Tomball