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Think about planting spring bulbs now

By Seth Nagy
For the Salisbury Post
SALISBURY – Although spring is nowhere in sight, it is time to consider planting bulbs now for early color next year. Daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and crocus provide us with vivid colors from February until May, depending upon the bulb type and our impending climatic conditions.Spring flowering bulbs should be planted when temperatures fall below 60 degrees. Even though Rowan has experienced a very warm fall, now is an excellent time to consider planting. Fall planting aids in good root development and satisfies the cool temperature requirements of bulbs.
Good selections of bulbs are now available from local garden shops and retail outlets. Select bulbs that are firm and healthy. Small nicks and loose skins do not affect the growth and development of the bulb. In fact, loose skins aid in inspection for diseases and other deformities.
The size and number of blooms per bulb are greatly influenced by the size of the bulb. Small economy bulbs, sold by the hundreds, are no bargain when bulbs produce small, less attractive blooms later in the spring. Large healthy bulbs produce large, showy blooms.
Store the bulbs in a cool, dry location (55-60 degrees) before planting. Do not store bulbs in the refrigerator. Daffodil bulbs have a similar appearance to onions and are very poisonous. Also, do not store the bulbs near ripening fruit. Apples and other tree fruits produce ethylene gas which affects the flowering process.
Well drained soils are essential for adequate bulb growth. Avoid planting in poorly drained soils. Tight clay soils should be amended with top soil, ground bark or composted material worked into the soil. Raised beds that include good topsoil and soil amendments are excellent areas to plant bulbs.
Soil pH is an important factor in bulb growth and development. Bulbs grow best in soils with a pH between 6.5 and 7.0. A soil test may reveal the need for dolomitic lime to raise the pH of our naturally acidic soils.
The planting procedure in the fall is important for later spring performance. Small-sized bulbs (1 inch in height) should be planted 4-5 inches deep. Larger bulbs (2 inches or more in height) should be planted 7-8 inches deep, with the depths measured from the base of the bulb to the soil line. Loosen the soil under the bulb before planting. Large bulbs should be planted 3-6 inches apart; small bulbs 1-2 inches apart. Small and large bulb varieties can be inter-planted.
Special fertilizers designed for spring flowering bulbs should be mixed into the root zone at planting. Bone meal supplies the bulbs with extra phosphorus which stimulates root growth and flower development. Top dress in the spring with the same amount of fertilizer as the bulbs break through the soil.
Cover the bulbs with half the soil backfill, water thoroughly and finish covering with remaining soil. Cover the planted bulbs with 2-3 inches of mulch to conserve water and reduce winter weed growth. Irrigate as needed during winter droughts.
Remove spent blooms with scissors or hand pruners and allow the foliage to die naturally. Do not cut or mow actively growing bulb foliage. The foliage produces food for next season’s flower.
If blooms were satisfactory, do not disturb. Bulbs that were poor performers should be removed replanted with new bulbs in the fall. Annual harvest or splitting bulbs is not recommended. Proper fertilization at planting and during the summer months is the key for a perennial show of flowers.
You can go to http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/factsheets/bulbs-perennial/bulletin37/perennial_bulbs.html for detailed information.

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