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Frequently Asked Questions about Growing Spring Blooming Bulbs

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Spring flowering bulbs are easy to grow and a most welcome sight after a long winter. With a little care at planting time, spring blooming bulbs will reward you with years of blooms. But which bulbs are best, which will the animals leave alone and which end is up, anyway? Here are answers to frequently asked questions about planting, choosing and caring for spring flowering bulbs.

1. When's the best time to plant my bulbs?

How to Plant Flowering Bulbs
That really depends on where you live. Bulbs need several weeks in the ground to get their root systems growing before the ground freezes. However what you don't really want is for the bulbs to sprout above ground, because this will deplete some of the energy stored in the bulb to get it through the winter. So gardeners in the coldest zones (1 - 4) should plant their bulbs in late August and September. Gardeners in zones 4 - 7 should wait until the temperatures start to dip in September and can continue until early November. Bulbs planted in the warmest climates obviously aren't going to get a chilling period, so these rules don't apply.

2. Does it matter which end it up?

Planting Flower Bulbs - Which End is Up?
That's a good question. Although the growing end will find its way up toward the warmth of the sun, it will have an easier time of it if it's planted in the right direction to begin with. Bulbs with pointed ends make it easy for you: the pointed end is the stem and it should be planted upward. Round corms and long tubers are more difficult. There are usually dried roots still attached to these, telling you which end should be planted down. When in doubt, guess - and trust the plant.

3. When should I feed my bulbs?

Bulbs store their own food, but that doesn't mean they don't need a little nutrition just like any other plant.  Giving bulbs what they need while they are dormant, growing and storing up energy for next year is what will keep them coming back.

4. Should I mulch my bulbs?

Mulching Bulbs
Mulch is almost always a good thing to do, it just depends on when you do it. In cold areas, we mulch to keep the soil cold. This is to prevent the soil from thawing too early and then refreezing, which makes bulbs and plants heave out of the ground. To prevent this, don't mulch until after the soil freezes.

In warm climates we mulch to keep the ground cool. Gardeners in Zones 8 and above can go ahead and mulch after planting and watering.

5. Can bulbs be divided or transplanted?

Dividing Flowering Bulbs
They can be, but it's not as easy as with regular plants. The best time to move bulbs is when the foliage is just about gone. The plant is no longer actively growing, the bulb is recharged and you can still see where they are. Take care when digging that you don't damage the bulbs themselves. Remember that bulbs tend to pull themselves deeper than they were originally planted and spread out. So start digging a few inches away from the plants and wait until the bulbs are loosened - don't pull on the leaves.

6. What if I live in an area that doesn't freeze? Can I still have spring bulbs?

Flowering Bulbs for Warm Areas
Of course. However you will either want to plant bulbs that don't require a chilling period or pre-chill your bulbs in the refrigerator for the winter and plant them outdoors in the spring.

7. Why do my tulip bulbs only last one year? Aren't they perennial?

Tulip Tips

Most of the spring blooming bulbs we plant in the fall can be relied upon to return year afer year, spread out and increase their blooming.  Tulips don't always cooperate.  It might not be the tulip's fault and not all tulips are created equal.

8. Do I have to keep the foliage around after it turns yellow?

Cutting Back Yellowing Bulb Foliage
The rule of thumb is to give them at least 8 weeks of growing, after the flowers fade. You can cut back the flower stem, but the fading foliage is necessary to feed the bulb for next year's blooms. In fact, this is a good time to fertilize your bulbs, as they're building up reserves.

If you haven't hidden your bulbs among perennial plants that will fill in and camouflage the ugly foliage you can always interplant them with spring annuals like pansies, petunias and snapdragons. But don't tie the leaves into little bundles, as was the fade a few years ago. It might look tidier, but the leaves can't photosynthesize if they aren't exposed to the sun.

9. Is there any way to keep squirrels and their relatives from eating my bulbs?

Squirrel Damage to Flowering Bulbs
There's no fail safe method, but there are a few tricks you can try. First, use a synthetic bulb fertilizer rather than bonemeal; bonemeal is just an invitation to the banquet.

Secondly, you can use a box or cover of hardware cloth or chicken wire as a barrier underground. They sell ready made bulbs cages, but you can also do this yourself. The easiest way to do this is to plant several bulbs in at once, in a wide hole, and cover them with the wire, before burying. Be sure to bend the wire down about an inch on each side, creating a cover over the bulbs.

Unfortunately, neither of these tricks will do you any good once the plants emerge. Deer & rodents will still be drawn to your tulips.

10. So, what bulbs can I plant that the deer don't like?

Deer - Controlling Deer in the Garden

Daffodils are still the most pest free spring bulbs you can grow. Nothing seems to be interested in them. But there are several other bulbs that are less favorable to deer, although as we all know - if they're really hungry, they'll try anything.

If you're ready to start planting, here are the top picks for easy care spring flowering bulbs that really deliver.

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