In summer 2016, I attended the wedding of a couple who handed out burlap sacks of tulip bulbs as guests left the reception. They attached a note that said, “As a living remembrance of the love we share, we give you these bulbs to plant with care.”
It was a lovely thought, and I’m getting ready to plant mine as cooler weather arrives. They’ve been stored in a cool, dry place. I’ve wondered if other wedding guests have done the same. I asked a cousin who attended the wedding what he did with his bulbs.
“I planted them, but I haven’t gotten any flowers,” he told me.
The bulbs were meant to be planted in the fall for blooms the following spring. If the couple had distributed summer bulbs, such as amaryllis, tuberous begonia, caladium, daylily, dahlia, gladiolus or lily, the bulbs would have flowered.
If you plant hyacinths, know that they have an oil in the bulbs which may make some people itch. Wear gloves when handling these bulbs, or wash hands with cool water and soap immediately after planting. It’s not unusual for some spring-flowering bulbs to send up a few leaves in the late fall or early winter. The bulbs will remain safe over the winter and will still produce flowers next spring.
If you want spring color, you need to plant before the first frost. Spring bulbs produce some of the most dramatic garden color with minimal effort. The most popular spring bulb is the tulip, but there are many others, including narcissus, daffodils, jonquils, snowdrops, fritillaria, winter aconite, anemone, allium and crocuses. Non-gardeners often don’t know: Plant spring-blooming bulbs in the fall.
There is a fact sheet published by the Virginia Cooperative Extension with the not-very-exotic-but-specifically-accurate government title of Publication #426-201, “Flowering Bulbs: Culture and Maintenance.” You can get a copy online at http://www.ext.vt.educ. The fact sheets says that “bulbs” is a term loosely used to include corns, tubers, tuberous roots, and rhizomes.
I’m a Green Spring Gardens Master Gardener, and in the Master Gardener class I learned that bulbs are broadly grouped into spring flowering (January-May) and summer flowering (June-September). Hardy spring flowering bulbs are planted in the fall. Spring bulbs provide color before most annuals and perennials bloom, so if you want spring color, plant in the fall.
When buying bulbs for fall planting, choose the best quality you can because the flower bud has already developed before the bulb is sold. Look for plump, firm bulbs. When you’re ready to plant, consider light, temperature, soil texture and function. Be certain to check the correct planting depth for each bulb.
One last thing to remember about your flower bulbs. After they bloom in the spring, do not cut the leaves back until they start to wither. Green leaves produce food for plant growth the next year. After leaves turn yellow, cut and compost the stems and foliage of the plants. If you cut the leaves back early, you’ll have no flowers next spring.
For information on preparing your garden for winter, check out the Green Spring Master Gardener web site, www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring/gsg-mastergardeners.htm.
If you’re interested in becoming a Green Spring Master Gardener, there’s information on Green Spring’s website, or contact the program’s coordinator, Pam Smith, at 703-642-0218 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author Gioia Caiola Forman is a Master Gardener at Green Spring Gardens.