Plant bulbs in the fall

Protect your plant bulbs in cool, dry places.

Fall is approaching and it was difficult to decide which topic to share. Should it be purchasing bulbs for spring or the frost tolerance of our vegetable gardens? I decided on purchasing bulbs for spring.

I haven’t heard any chatter around the virtual “watercooler” but if the bulb supply follows the problems of supply, as in other industries, now would be a good time to shop. My new moto is: if I see ‘em, buy ‘em. I can always keep them dry and in the refrigerator.

When purchasing bulbs choose the biggest bulbs. The size of the bulb is directly correlated to the size of the flower, the bigger the bulb, the bigger the flower. Check the bulb for mechanical damage or signs of mold. You may also want to purchase soil amendment and bulb fertilizer. Recommendations for catalog sales are to open the box and inspect the bulbs upon receiving.

The rule of thumb is to store in a paper bag or open tray. Avoid plastic, which can collect moisture and create mold or fungus problems. If you decide to refrigerate before planting make sure you keep them away from apples and other fruit. Many types of fruit release ethylene gas.

In an enclosed space like a refrigerator, this gas can build up and cause damage to flower buds. If a refrigerator isn’t an option, for the short term bulbs will stay inactive between 55-65 degrees F.

Careful where you site plants

Although it isn’t time to plant bulbs, you could spend time preparing the site. Most bulbs prefer full sun (6 to 8 hours). A word of caution. We think of the south side of the house as being a warm, protected site but it can turn out to be your enemy early in the spring. The accumulated heat from the foundation and the house siding will result in earlier blooming but will also put the emerging bulbs at risk for frost damage.

Every year we experience a week of “false spring”, usually in late February or in March which is always followed by the return of the normal frosty temperatures of those months. Prepare the soil with soil amendments and fertilizer. According to an OSU fact sheet phosphorous fertilizer does not move through the soil and therefore needs to be applied at the time of planting so that it is available to the roots.

The best time to plant bulbs is when the air temperatures are reliably below 50 degrees F and the soil temperature is at or below 55 degrees. Bulbs can be planted up to the point of the ground being frozen solid. Water well after planting. Once the ground is frozen, cover with approximately three inches of mulch to prevent the bulbs from freezing and thawing.

Deer-resistant plants

If you have lived a different life in a different area, the first item on the shipping list would be tulip bulbs. Tulips are like candy for deer. After trying various locations to outwit the deer I decided on under the very low growing branches of a crab apple tree mixed in with a bed of Oregon Grape repens. Just as the first buds were opening a deer got down on her “knees” and proceeded to have breakfast. I now plant many daffodils.

Deer resistant bulbs include snowdrops-Galanthus, crocus, scilla, daffodils, grape hyacinth also called muscari, fritillaria, Dutch iris, allium and giant allium. If you live in a deer-free area you can add the tulips, windflowers-Anemone, and hyacinth.

You might want to add a few reminders to your garden journal or calendar. A reminder that you have bulbs waiting to be planted. The OSU Master Gardeners usually get many panicky calls from gardeners that they have forgotten they had bulbs in the garage, or in the refrigerator and wonder what to do.

You might want to use some sort of marking system as to where the bulbs are planted. It could even be golf tees or sturdy twigs in the ground. An after bloom reminder for daffodils should be to cut out spent blooms before they start forming seeds pods. Leave the foliage to die back naturally as that is what provides the nutrients for next year’s growth. Do not bend the foliage over or tie them. Consider planting annuals or perennials to help camouflage the drying foliage.

With the exception of Amaryllis, now would also be the time to purchase and pot up bulbs for winter forcing. Most bulbs need a chilling time, potted up, of 15 weeks. Weeks to bloom are generally between two and five weeks.

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