Gardening for Health

Plant Bulbs Now for Spring 

By Maria Price 

Springtime flower bulbs are abundant in nurseries and garden stores this time of year. A great project for your family, since most kids are home with distance learning, is to plant some bulbs in a pot for an early spring display. Lining your walkway or front steps with flowering pots of bulbs is not only beautiful but welcoming to you and your family. While it’s great to plant bulbs in the ground, pots of flowering bulbs will certainly lift spirits in these pandemic times. 

While it’s not terribly difficult, here are some hints that will help ensure the bulbs and their flowers stay happy, and some rules that should be followed in order for the bulbs to bloom. 

When planted in soil and given moisture, bulbs will grow leaves. But in order for them to produce flowers, most bulbs have to go through a “cooling period” known as vernalization. Bulbs can be stored in a refrigerator’s hydrator drawer or in an extra fridge. Be sure they stay away from fruits and veggies as the gas they give off can abort the bulbs flower production. 

The easiest way to get vernalization is by letting nature take its course. Fill a 10- to 12-inch pot with drainage holes about half to three-fourths full of a coarse soil-less media or very coarse potting soil. Place the bulbs “shoulder to shoulder” on top of the media. I top the bulbs with a little bit of soil and do a second layer of bulbs. If the pot is bigger than 12 inches, there’s usually room for a third layer of smaller bulbs. Fill the rest of the pot with soil to the top. Water the pot two to three times to be sure the moisture reaches the base of the bulb where their roots are formed. Next find a spot outside that is shaded from the winter sun. If you have more than one pot, put them close together side-by-side down on the ground. Cover the tops and sides of the pots with 6 to 8 inches of mulch or 10 to 12 inches of packed leaves. The winter weather will water the pots for you and give the bulbs the 12 to 16 weeks of cold they need to bloom. 

When the days grow long again and the temperatures moderate just a little, you will see the mulch or leaves pushing upward, indicating the leaves and buds are sprouting, trying to find light. Begin to pull some of the mulch away when you see it starting to bulge, so the sprouting leaves will not yellow and can get sunlight as they start to emerge. You can bring the pots indoors to a sunny window to get earlier blooms.  

There are early, mid-season and late blooming bulbs, try to use bulbs that have similar bloom times. A nice combination for the top layer is daffodils, tulips and grape hyacinths.