Planting and Caring for Bulbs

The family of bulbs is made up of bulbs, corms, rhizomes and tubers. At the time of planting, they benefit greatly if special bulb planting mixes are used to amend the soil. These mixes are specially fortified with calcium and special types of nutrients and micronutrients that allow for exceptional bulb performance. Place an inch or so of the mix in the bottom of the hole before planting the bulb.

Bulb planting tools are helpful in the planting process. Different bulbs require different planting depths, and bulb planters are scored to show how deep you are digging holes. They lift out a cone of soil, allowing you to amend the soil and plant the bulb. For bulbs that produce tall plant growth and heavy blooms, drive a plant stake deep into the undisturbed soil at the base of the planting hole, before planting the bulb. This allows you to tie the plant, as it grows, to the stake for support. Always use garden twine or materials that will not cut into or bind the plant as it matures. Stakes also identify the location of bulbs at the end of the season, when it is time to lift and store them for the winter.

Caring for bulbs is much the same as other garden plants. Mulch to control weed growth, deadhead spent blooms and make sure they have adequate water during the growth and bloom season. After the blooms fade, make sure to maintain this care cycle, since the bulbs are now storing nutrients for the next growing cycle. Resist the urge to cut the dying foliage back: allow it to die back naturally, since this is the source of many needed bulb nutrients. Cutting the foliage back early can affect the ability to produce blooms the following season.

Dahlias (Asteraceae Compositae) grow from a central stem with fleshy tubers that spread out around the base. Be sure to stake at the time of planting, since they produce an abundance of foliage, complete with heavy blooms. They like cool temperatures and well-drained soil and can be vulnerable to mildew. Mature plants can be divided into multiples by cutting them into sections, making sure that the sections of tubers have pieces of stem attached.

Gladiolus Sword Lily (Iridaceae) is a corm that can be planted in fall or early spring, depending on climate, for bloom in late spring. They need very secure belowground anchorage (staking) to support tall flower stalks. Leave 8 to 12 inches between each glad, and expect to see growth within a month of planting, sometimes even sooner.

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