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Mansfield Magazine

The Time is Now to Select and Plant Spring-Flowering Bulbs

Dec 12, 2017 12:22AM ● Published by Melanie Heisinger

Spectacular Spring Show

By Steve Huddleston


Fall has arrived and spending time out in your yard is probably not on your radar screen. But in addition to Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays there is another preparation you might want to consider and the payoff in the spring can be very colorful.

November and December are the best times of year to plant spring-flowering bulbs. Taking the time to plant these bulbs now will result in a spectacular spring show in your garden. You can purchase online, through bulb catalogs or from local nurseries and home and garden centers through December. 

Here are some tips to consider when growing bulbs and deciding which ones to plant.


General Planting Information

Light - Almost all bulbs prefer full sun.  One of the most shade-tolerant bulbs, however, is Scilla siberica, and a good cultivar is ‘Spring Beauty.’ 

Soil - Most bulbs prefer well-drained, organically-enriched soil, but some bulbs will tolerate clay soils.  Heavy clay soils can, of course, be lightened by the incorporation of expanded shale and aged compost. 

Planting Depth - The general guideline for planting depth is three times the bulb’s height.  In a clay soil, however, the bulb is better off planted too shallow than too deep. 

Fertilizing - Scott Ogden, author of Garden Bulbs for the South, recommends dispensing with fertilizing altogether.  He contends that alkaline soils typically found in north Texas tie up the nutrients in bone meal and superphosphate, two common bulb fertilizers.  Other sources recommend fertilizing bulbs in the fall when the bulbs are initiating new roots and actively absorbing nutrients.  Such sources recommend topdressing bulbs with a slow-release fertilizer such as 5-10-20, which is high in phosphorus and potassium. 

Foliage - Always let the foliage of bulbs die down naturally since such foliage manufactures food necessary to restock the bulb for the next year.

Companion Planting – Companion plants such as perennials, annuals and ground covers help mask dying bulb foliage.  Also consider interplanting bulbs with such spring annuals as pansies, alyssum, dianthus or snapdragons for a really gorgeous display of color.
 

Daffodils (Narcissus spp.)

Daffodils are the cheerful harbingers of spring.  There are eleven divisions, or classifications, of daffodils based on flower characteristics.   Large-cupped daffodils feature one flower to a stem, and the cup or corona is more than one-third but less than equal to the length of the perianth (petals).   Good choices for north central Texas include ‘Carlton,’ ‘Gigantic Star,’ ‘Ice Follies’ and ‘St. Keverne.’

The jonquillas are an excellent division of daffodils for north central Texas. They feature several small flowers per stem, with a fragrance resembling honeysuckle or jasmine. Good cultivars include ‘Dickcissel,’ ‘Pipit’ and ‘Quail.’

Another excellent group for our area are the tazetta daffodils.  This division features many flowers per stem; the fragrance of these is musky sweet.  Excellent choices include ‘Avalanche,’ ‘Falconet’ and ‘Geranium.’  

Double daffodils comprise another division.  ‘Cheerfulness’ is a cultivar with creamy white blossoms that smell like gardenias; this variety is so packed with petals that the flowers almost look like small carnations.  ‘Erlicheer’ is another double narcissus with 15-20 flowers on each stem.  The soft white flowers with creamy yellow centers give off a pleasant, sweet aroma. 
If I’ve whetted your appetite for daffodils, learn more about them in the book Daffodils for American Gardens, by Brent and Becky Heath. 
 

Tulips

Darwin hybrid tulips produce long-lasting flowers on strong stems that are perfect for cutting, and the brilliant colors of these very popular tulips show up beautifully in the landscape.  In the Fort Worth-Dallas area, however, Darwin hybrids must be treated as annuals since they will not repeat or naturalize in our warm, clay soils.  Try instead any number of species tulips.  If given good drainage, species tulips come back year after year, and those adapted to our area require no cold treatment to induce flowering.  They are excellent for rock gardens and the front of borders.   

Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’ has pale, lilac-pink flowers with a yellow center; the flowers bloom about the same time as bluebonnets and could even be interplanted with them.  This bulb is a better bet for our area than crocus because the flowers are bigger and the bulbs naturalize better. 

Tulipa clusiana var. chrysantha  has flowers with petals that are red on the outside with a bright golden yellow interior.  Total height is six to eight inches. 

Tulipa linifolia has bright scarlet flowers with pointed petals and a jet black center.This heirloom bulb reaches a mature height of four to six inches.      
 

Other Spring-flowering Bulbs

Hyacinthoides hispanica, or Spanish bluebells, have bell-shaped flowers on 15-20-inch stems.  These adaptable plants tolerate dry shade beneath trees and they bloom in mid-spring when the trees begin to leaf out.  They will also thrive in full sun.  They look lovely with late daffodils and tulips, planted among low ground covers such as Vinca or in front of azaleas.  They also make good cut flowers.  A variety called ‘Excelsior’ has deep violet-blue flowers that are darker and larger than most.  It is also an heirloom bulb dating back to 1906. 

Gladiolus communis ssp. Byzantinus, also known as Byzantine gladiolus, makes another colorful – and heirloom – addition to the spring garden.  In April, orchid-like blossoms rise above the sword-shaped foliage.  The hooded blossoms are bright magenta, and up to fifteen florets can line the 24-inch stems.  This gladiolus is hardy and doesn’t need staking; it makes a nice cut flower, too.  

Leucojum aestivum, or summer snowflake, has flowers that look like little white, inverted bells with green dots on the outside of each petal; the overall appearance of the flowers is quite dainty.  The foliage looks very much like daffodil foliage, only a little darker green, and it grows to 15 inches or so.  Summer snowflake naturalizes beautifully, so plant large drifts for a graceful, natural look.  A variety called ‘Gravetye Giant’ is a particularly robust selection with much larger flowers than the species.  It was introduced by William Robinson, the very influential 19th-century Irish garden writer.  The foliage on ‘Gravetye Giant’ reaches a height of 18-24 inches.

Getting ready for Christmas is probably more on your mind than spring-flowering bulbs, but now is the time to plant these bulbs that will herald the arrival of spring and fill your spring garden with beauty and fragrance. 

Order and plant some today!  
 
 
Steve Huddleston is the senior horticulturist at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden and co-author of Easy Gardens for North Central Texas.

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