Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Mondays in Steamboat Today.
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Bulbs can be planted until the ground freezes. To plant in an existing bed, first rake mulch aside. Determine what depth is needed to plant the bulbs. The rule of thumb is that the depth of the bulb should be four times its height. Dig a hole 12 inches wide, at the required depth, and put the soil in a bucket. Loosen soil in the bottom of the hole. Add a small handful of bone meal or bulb fertilizer and mix with soil in hole. Place five to seven bulbs in hole, pointed end or tip up. If the soil has a high clay content, that must be amended. Aerate the soil by adding a handful of compost when placing soil back in the hole. Cover the spot with three inches of mulch. Label the spot for identification and to avoid digging up the bulbs by mistake.
The bulb catalogs are filling our mailboxes and our imaginations with enticing possibilities for our gardens next spring. Now is the time to plant bulbs for spring flowering.
A few years ago, I planted 100 naturalized daffodils in the meadow at the end of our driveway. They require no care and add early season color to this part of the entranceway to our home. The deer don’t bother them, and they multiply year after year.
If deer are not a problem in your garden, you also might want to try some naturalizing tulips, crocus, scilla or anemone for additional color in your yard, meadow or field.
When planting bulbs in your garden, select a site with full sun but also some protection from the hot mid-afternoon rays.
My bulb garden is located on the east side of the house and flourishes there. For ground cover to hide the yellowing leaves of the tulips, daffodils, hyacinth and crocus, I planted periwinkle vinca, but many groundcover plants will serve this purpose.
As with any garden, soil preparation is necessary. Amend your soil to a medium sandy-loam consistency with good drainage, since bulbs will rot in wet, soggy soil.
Choose bulbs to bring color to your garden throughout the growing season. Crocus, daffodil and tulips tend to bloom early, followed by hyacinth, iris and allium in mid- to late summer. Fall blooming crocus and toad lilies help provide fall interest.
As you plant your bulbs, remember flowers add a bold splash of color when planted in large groups. Design your garden with tall bulbs planted in the back and shorter ones in the front. The size of the bulb tells you roughly the size of the flower grown from that bulb. Choose firm, heavy bulbs in good condition and plant them soon after purchasing.
Hardy bulbs for zone 3-4 may be left in the ground. After blooming, foliage is left on until it withers to provide energy to the bulbs for next year.
The bulb then requires a resting period during summer followed by cold temperatures to break out of this dormancy.
Tulip flowers and bulbs are favorite food of deer, elk, chipmunks, squirrels and mice. To protect the bulbs, plant them in hardware cloth boxes or dip the bulbs in a commercial taste repellent or make your own with crushed dried cayenne peppers. Or, fence in your tulip beds.
Planting bulbs in fall is a spring gift to yourself, when a new season unleashes a panorama of color, texture and fragrance.
Deb Babcock is a master gardener through the Routt County Cooperative Extension Office. Call 970-879-0825 with questions.