Planting bulbs is one of the most joyous and exciting additions to any flower lovers garden. Secretly buried into the soil, they magically appear as the first sign of spring and their unique forms vibrantly light up our landscape after the muted tones of winter. They are especially enjoyable when gardening with children or grandchildren.
My rule of thumb is that bulbs should be planted around Thanksgiving. Buchanan’s carries a gorgeous assortment of daffodils, amaryllis, crocus, tulips, lycoris, hyacinths and ranunculus. Bulbs are easy to grow and you can even grow them in containers. Yet different varieties are unique in their own ways, whether it’s how to plant them, when to plant or what to be mindful of once you’ve picked them in the spring. Here are a few tips for the various bulbs we’re carrying, all of which hold a high success rate in Houston gardens:
Tulips: They need to be refrigerated up to 6 weeks before planting as the refrigeration gets them into the “winter mood.” Since tulips are a spring flowering bulb they are required to be planted in the fall. It gives them that long period of cool temperatures to ignite the biochemical process that causes them to bloom. It is important to get them into the ground before the ground freezes so they can develop strong roots. Plant them in a sunny location with well-draining soil. They dislike too much moisture; this is death to a tulip. Plant them at least 8 inches deep with the pointy side up. Water tulips during dry spells in the fall, otherwise don’t water them at all. There is nothing quite like a grouping of tulips rising up from the ground to say hello!
Daffodils: A flower celebrated in art and literature throughout time, the daffodil has come to represent rebirth. The daffodil is even said to bring good fortune to those who avoid trouncing on them. Hardy and easy perennials to grow, their emergence from the ground are the sure sign spring is here. Plant daffodil bulbs 1 ½ – 5 times their depth, in well drained soils. They like a spot with full to partial sun. If a cold harsh winter is expected, be sure they are at least 3 inches below the soil. If experiencing a dry spring, be sure and water late blooming daffodils. They make excellent cut flowers but in arrangements, don’t mix them with other blooms, as their stems secrete a fluid that wilts other flowers.
Ranunculus: The flower of a ranunculus is like no other with its layers of tissue paper thin petals that create a spiraling mandala. They make an excellent cut flower (7 day vase life!) and grow extremely well in our climate. You want to place them in your garden in an area that has well-draining soil and full sun. Their corms looks like hanging bananas or claws and are actually a tuber. Plant them 2 inches deep and so that their ‘banana’ forms are pointing down. They tend to grow large while underground and develop more ‘bananas.’ This of course produces more flowers. They can be dug up each year and hung in an onion net bag in your garage until it’s time to plant them again. This way you avoid the risk of them rotting in between seasons due to our heavy rain fall patterns.
Paperwhite narcissus: These belong to the daffodil family and are a great naturalizing perennial in our area. They can also be forced to bloom indoors anytime of the year too. But don’t expect them to bloom twice in one year. Like anything in nature, it needs the cycle of the seasons to recharge and recover from energy spent blooming. Outdoors they like to be placed in full sun in an area of the garden that drains well. Once they are established, watch them multiply!
Amaryllis: The perfect gift for the gardener in your life, the amaryllis flower has a powerful and radiant bloom that has become associated with the Holidays. It is also one of the easiest flowers to bring to bloom either inside your home or outside in the garden. In preparation for planting, the base and roots of the bulb should be placed in lukewarm water for a few hours. If you cannot plant the bulbs immediately after receiving them, store them at a cool temperature between 40-50 degrees F. Avoid putting them in a refrigerator with apples as this will sterilize them. Plant the bulb up to its neck in good potting compost in a warm spot in the garden or near a window with direct light. The heat is a necessary component for the development of stems. Water sparingly until the stem appears. As the bud and leaves appear, water more. At this stage the stem will grow rapidly and flowers will develop after it reaches its full growth. The blooms hang around for weeks of enjoyment. When your flower is finished blooming, cut the stems back. Continue to water as you normally would throughout summer allowing new leaves to grow. Come fall, the leaves will crisp up and turn brown. At this time you’ll want to cut the leaves back two inches from the neck and remove the bulb from the soil. Clean and place it in a cool dark place (again not near apples) and store for 6 weeks. When you are ready to have blooms again, bring them out. Plant bulbs 8 weeks before you would like to see them bloom.
Bulb gardening with children is wonderful as a way to teach them the practice of patience. Children also love surprises! When spring arrives and the bulbs begin to rise out of the ground, imagine the delight in a child’s eyes remembering they were the ones who “put the bulbs to bed for winter.” Here is a song below to sing as you plant your bulbs with children. Happy planting!
I’m a Little Flower Bulb
To the tune of “I’m a Little Teapot”
I’m a little flower bulb, small and brown,
Buried in the cool, dark ground.
As the days grow warmer, watch and see,
I’ll sprout through the earth — Yippee!
Growing, growing, growing every day,
Sprouting leaves that gently sway,
Next comes a bud and then a flower —
A face to shine ‘neath sun and showers.