Plant bulbs now and reap beautiful flowers later.
With summer in the rearview window and fall foliage in full force, spring flowers may not be foremost on your mind.
But trust us, when spring comes around again, you’ll thank us for reminding you to plant flowering bulbs now. And we mean right now — before the ground freezes!
Here’s what you need to know.
The term ‘bulb’ is used to describe ‘true bulbs’ such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and lilies as well as corms, crocuses, tubers, anemones, rhizomes and irises.
The highest quality and best selection of bulbs — but the most expensive — are available through specialty bulb catalogs. You also can purchase bulbs at big box stores and garden centers. If you opt to buy them at a retail store, look for bulbs that are plump, firm and meant for fall planting.
Avoid shriveled, lightweight, soft and squishy bulbs and those that are damaged, moldy or discolored.
Common Types of Bulbs
Hybrid tulips are among the most popular bulbs for fall planting. They grow from 6 inches to more than 3 feet tall and come in a wide array of colors. Flowering between March and May, they usually need to be planted every year. Hybrid tulips can be single (early blooming with six petals in the shape of a cup) or double (early or late blooming with multilayered petals).
Less common, species or species hybrid tulips have a more natural appearance, come in red, yellow and white and grow on 6- to 10-inch-high stems. In our climate zone, species and species hybrid tulips grow perennially and are found mostly in rock gardens or in front of mixed flowerbeds.
Narcissus is the proper name for the many varieties of flowers that make up the daffodil family. In garden terminology, “daffodils” usually refer to large-flowered varieties of narcissus while paperwhites have small white flowers that grow four or five to a stem. Jonquils have small fragrant blossoms with two to six flowers per stem and grow to a height of 1 foot.
Most bulbs are sold with a guide with information about how deeply to plant them, how much space to leave between them and optimal light, watering and soil conditions.
Before planting, prepare the soil by adding organic matter such as well-rotted manure or compost to improve drainage. Bulbs can be planted in groups of odd numbers or spread out for a naturalized look. Tulips are typically planted in clumps, masses, drifts or containers.
Narcissus does well under trees and shrubs or beneath ground cover. Clump them for a naturalized look or plant them in containers.
Beware of squirrels and chipmunks who are mighty fond of the taste of tulips. If you can’t keep critters away from your tulips, try planting daffodils instead. They’re poisonous and hence, critter repellent.
Rebecca Brown began her career as a horticulturist more than 25 years ago and studied at the New York Botanical Gardens. She has been a University of Maryland Extension Baltimore County master gardener for four years and is a backyard beekeeper.
Norman Cohen is a retired chemist. He has been gardening for 39 years and has been a University of Maryland Extension Baltimore County master gardener for 10 years. Cohen also provides gardening education to the public at local farmers markets.