Tulips Bredenkamp

For flowers in spring or early summer, now is the time to select and plant bulbs. They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors.

By Christy Bredenkamp


Fall planted bulbs that flower either in the spring or very early summer greatly enhance home gardens, parks, office buildings and other landscaped facilities. They offer a tremendous range of colors, shapes, sizes and plant heights.

For a long time, you may have wanted to plant bulbs but were unsure how to incorporate them into your landscape or garden. Since fall is the time of year to plant next year’s bulb garden, here are some tips to help you.

First off, the soil must drain well. If you observe water at the proposed site 24 hours after a good rainfall, then consider another location. Second, check soil pH. The N.C. Department of Agriculture performs this service for free from April 1 toward the end of November so utilize this opportunity. The Extension office has the soil boxes and paperwork. Soil pH should be within a range of six to seven. If necessary, adjust the pH level with lime.

Check for proper light conditions and unwanted weeds. Depending on the genus, bulbs perform optimally under different light conditions. Most spring flowering bulbs grow suitably when exposed to full sunlight for most of the day. If the site contains weeds such as nutsedge, lambsquarters or Johnsongrass, eliminate them before planting.

Spring bulbs must be planted in the fall in order to develop a good root system and to satisfy the cold requirement that ranges from six to 20 weeks depending on the species. The exact time to plant these bulbs depends on the prevailing soil temperature. In general, it is best to wait until the soil temperature is below 60 degrees at the optimal planting depth. The optimal planting time for Zone 6 is in October while it’s better to wait until November or early December for those in Zone 7.

When designing your site, there are many factors to consider such as length of flowering, plant heights, flower color and size, and plant textures. The following are just a few ideas to consider when grouping or using spring flowering bulbs.

Read labels. Beginning gardeners often feel they don’t know enough to plan their gardens correctly. Whether you buy bulbs in packets or loose from a bin, there are labels describing plant heights and flowering times. Plant low-growing bulbs toward the front of the bed, and taller plants in the back. Mix early and late‑flowering bulbs. Your garden will be lovely all spring, and the late‑blooming plants will hide the spent foliage of the early bloomers.

Add a splash of color to a walkway or drive. Plant bulbs around a lamppost, in wooded areas, or create a bed of your favorite colors. Consider planting bulbs in clusters. Some gardeners tend to scatter their plantings.

A group of tulips planted together makes a bold, spring statement.

Plan perennial borders to reach their flowery climax in either mid or late summer. Perennial borders that bloom brilliantly only once per season look dull the rest of the year. Use bulbs to spice up the border in spring and fall. For example, use small groupings of soft‑yellow daffodils planted near hostas. This scheme creates a lovely effect, and as the foliage of the hosta grows and thickens, it hides the leaves of the spent daffodils.

Selecting high-quality bulbs is important because the flower bud has already developed before the bulb is sold. Size is important. Generally, larger bulbs produce better flowers. Select bulbs that are plump and firm. Small nicks and loose skins do not affect the quality.

If you buy bulbs well before planting time, keep them in a cool, dry place with a temperature of 60-65 degrees to keep bulbs from drying. Rhizomes, tubers and tuberous roots dry out faster than bulbs and corms and survive best if stored in peat, perlite or vermiculite.

Avoid storing spring-flowering bulbs near fruits that produce ethylene (such as apples or pears). Ethylene is a gas that can cause “flower abortion” and other problems with flowering.

Finally, when the foliage of bulbs becomes distracting, lift a neighboring branch of the shrub upward so the bulb leaves will be under the shrub covering but, remember braiding, bending or removal of the fading foliage reduces future bulb size. The undesirable appearance of dying foliage should be considered when selecting a site for bulb plantings. Think how they will look in the springtime and in the fall.

Envisioning the site in this manner enables one to anticipate the most obvious needs and to recreate the area from year to year.

Christy Bredenkamp is horticulture extension agent for Jackson and Swain counties.