By Alisa Hatchett, Penn State Master Gardener, Greene County
Fall is a great time of year to look at your landscape and decide what you want to see growing there next spring. Planting bulbs is a great and cost-effective way to turn a piece of lawn into a masterpiece, because the one thing that I love about bulbs is that they are easy to plant and they multiply.
Bulbs are usually perennials that bloom in the spring, die back and return the next spring. They are roundish-oval in shape with a pointy top and a root like base known as the basal plate. The bulb is planted with the basal plate down in the soil and the point facing up. Bulbs are asexual. They do not need to be romanced into reproduction. An individual bulb can, over a period of several years, clone itself by creating baby bulbs known as offsets. Offsets are genetically identical to the original bulb.
A bulb is a complete plant. The basal plate cradles the bud, which sometimes resembles a small flower. This bud is cradled by white fleshy scales that are the bulb’s source of nourishment. The bulb appears brown and scaly because it is covered in a protective tunic. An onion is a great example of a bulb – an edible bulb. However, if you cut a flower bulb in half, you can see all the parts of the plant. When you cut an onion in half, it just looks like an onion!
Most bulbs propagate naturally. You can separate large clumps every three to five years for larger blooms and to increase bulb population. Smaller bulbs may not bloom for a couple years, but large bulbs should bloom the first year after dividing. This separation process gives them adequate breathing room underneath the soil so that they can continue to expand their family plot. In the proper environment, one that is low in humidity and cool, packaged bulbs can be kept past a growing season but ideally should be planted six to eight weeks before the first frost. These bulbs must go through a cold dormant period for at least 16 to 18 weeks before they can produce the nicest blooms. This brings a clearer perspective to the phrase “Just chillin” or “chill out!”
Wholesalers package bulbs by weight and sell the bulbs in see-through air flow bags, which you want to keep in a cool dry place until you are ready to plant. The pictures on the bag are pretty accurate as to how your plants will look when in bloom. They can come in a variety of colors to allow you to go with a theme or mix-n-match. Each type of bulb requires varying degrees of depth when planted – some require several inches while others require less than an inch of dirt.
If you’re not sure what you want to see growing in your garden next spring, you can take a walk through a local lawn and garden center to get ideas and you can usually get some expert advice from those folks that work there; or for those of you that are computer literate, search for information on bulbs using any search engine on the world wide web; and lastly, for those of you that have gardening books sitting on your book shelves, blow of the dust and start leafing (no pun intended) through the pages. My gardening books include color illustrated pictures, how to plant, how to fertilize plants, how to cut and display the flowers and how to create a happy living space below ground for your bulbs to thrive.
The most popular bulbs to plant in the fall are crocuses, hyacinths, irises, tulips and daffodils.
Preparation is vital to having a successful garden. So before buying and planting, here are some things you should know:
1. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has divided the United States into growing zones. Plant packaging, gardening books and magazines all refer to these zones when recommending plants that will thrive and be productive. Greene County is Zone 6. This means that the average annual low temperature ranges between 0 degrees F to -10 degrees F.
2. Decide where you want to plant the bulbs. If your location is too wet, your bulbs will drown. Spring bulbs prefer a well-drained sunny area of your yard.
3. Buy some bulb fertilizer. The only way to know for sure that your plant is in a nutrient rich environment is to get your soil tested. (Your Penn State Extension office should have kits.) If you don’t get it tested, use a little fertilizer.
4. Use a spade or a bulb planter, which is great for determining the depth you are to plant your bulb.
5. Gently water your bulbs after planting.
6. Mulch with straw.
7. Wait patiently for spring!
Alisa Hatchett moved to Greene County in the spring of 2016. She has always been interested in becoming a Master Gardener and when she noticed the sign at the Penn State Extension Office on West High Street in Waynesburg, she didn’t hesitate to go in and introduce herself. That fall, she was excepted into the training program, where she and three others participated in an extensive training process. It was fun and interesting and they all completed the program in March 2017. Not just anyone can use the title “Master Gardener,” but Alisa earned it. She recommends that if you have a desire to learn something, go for it! Applications are being accepted for our fall Master Gardener classes, deadline Sept. 1. For more information, call the Penn State Extension office at 724-627-3745. You will participate in training and projects with other likeminded adults, and if you pass the test, you too can add the title “Master Gardener” after your name!