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Spring Ahead: Plant Bulbs Now

Phil Williams
Wikimedia Commons

As fall approaches and cooler weather moves in, keep warmer times in mind by planning ahead with your garden. KUNC’s gardener Tom Throgmorton says plant flowering bulbs now to prepare for spring.

The myth was that the gods were so amazed at the young shepherd Crocus’ love for the nymph Smilax that the gods granted the couple eternal life. Crocus lives on as a spring flower. Smilax is the evergreen yew. The myth and history of bulbs is fascinating. Tulipmania caused an economic crash in the 1700’s.

Masses of bulbs are eye catching statements in a landscape. The initial planting requires hundreds of bulbs. But once planted the flowers return spring after spring. 

To naturalize bulb plantings use species or botanical flowers. They are less cross-bred. Their flowers are smaller but the bulbs are much more durable.  Species and botanicals should be labeled where you buy them. 

Spring flowering bulbs like well drained soil. That’s why they’re raised in the sandy soils of Holland and the Pacific Northwest. Mix compost into heavy clay soil to loosen it. Dig the compost in deeply. 

A rule of thumb in our region is to plant bulbs four to five times their width deep.  Tulips are planted six to eight inches deep. Crocus are planted three to four inches deep. 

Plant spring flowering bulbs when night temperatures are consistently below fifty degrees. The bulbs need six weeks before the soil freezes. The soil can freeze as early as Halloween in the high country. It usually freezes sometime in December in the lowlands. The bulbs root-in during the cool autumn weather. 

Bulbs like to be fertilized in the spring and in the fall. Top dress with a slow release, high phosphorus fertilizer. 

Most bulbs like full sun.  In partial shade they may bloom later and have smaller flowers. If bulbs are in a hot spot, like the south side of a building, they may bloom too early. Premature bloomers may get frozen or smashed by a heavy snow.

Rows of the same color make a big statement. Blend similar colors or make large contrasts. This is the artistry of the planting. Mix types of bulbs. Crocus and scillas make a colorful, early blooming border. Tulips and daffodils are a later, taller flower show. 


Tom has been offering garden advice on KUNC for almost two decades. During that time he has been the wholesale sales manager at Ft. Collins Nursery, Inc. Since January of 2005 he has been the owner and operator of Throgmorton Plant Management, LLC., a landscape installation and maintenance company as well as a horticultural consulting firm. He lives in northern Ft. Collins with his wife and two kids.
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