SEATTLE — Ciscoe says:
Fill your spring garden with spectacular color by planting spring blooming bulbs this fall. The best thing about spring blooming bulbs is that they already have a flower ready to go when you plant them, so unless your soil is pure clay and the bulbs rot in our rainy winters, or squirrels eat them, they can't fail to bloom. They do great planted in containers as well, so even if you live in a condo, if you’ve got a balcony all you need is a frost proof pot and you can create a colorful spring display as well.
Spring blooming bulbs need at least 10 to 12 weeks in the cold ground to establish the roots necessary to bloom, so make sure to plant them by the end of November. When planting, mix organic bulb food and bone meal into the soil, and water them in to remove any possible air pockets. Try to plant them in an area that isn’t irrigated too often. In summer, constant watering can cause bulbs to rot. Next spring give the bulbs a nutritional boost by working in an organic bulb food around the plants as soon as they begin to set flower buds. Wait to cut the foliage down until it dies back completely to allow the plant to store as much energy as possible in the bulb.
Choose a mix of varieties that bloom early, mid and late-season, and your spring blooming bulbs will put on a colorful display that will last until summer.
Perhaps the most popular of all spring blooming bulbs are tulips. Unfortunately, most of the fancy tulips don’t like our rainy winters and often don’t come back to bloom well after the first year.
If you have well drained soil, try planting the bulbs 12 inches deep. Using this technique, I’ve had Darwin and Empress Hybrids come back and bloom for over 10 years in a row...
Another method is to plant species tulips. The flowers are smaller but they make up for their small stature with vibrant colors, and a tough constitution. A few favorites that have come back and bloomed for me every spring for years are Tulipa bakeri 'Lilac wonder' (lilac flowers with a yellow center) the unpronounceable T. kolpakowskiana, (yellow flowers, streaked red) and the even harder to pronounce, T. vvedenskyi 'Tangerine Beauty' (red flowers streaked orange-flame.)
If squirrels tend to eat your tulip bulbs, protect them by surrounding them with chicken wire when you plant them. If the squirrels make a habit of eating the buds when they emerge in spring like they did to me, buy some ghost pepper sauce and add just enough water to it to enable you to spray it from a spritzer bottle. Squirt it liberally on the buds, but protect your eyes, this stuff is hot. The only mammal on earth that doesn’t hate hot pepper is us humans. Enjoy watching the squirrels shouting ‘ahooa’ as they run for a water source after taking a bite. If that doesn’t work, buy a Jack Russell terrier, and make sure the first word it learns is 'Squirrel'!
Fortunately there are quite a number of spring blooming bulbs that those fuzzy little troublemakers don't bother. Snowdrops (Galanthus) are among the first to bloom, often coming up through the snow. Prized by collectors, these small but showy members of the Amaryllis family are practically indestructible and form impressive sized clumps over time.
Daffodils and all types of Narcissus all have poison bulbs that squirrels won't touch, and the bulbs of hyacinth also contains toxins that keeps the squirrels away. A real charmer that squirrels leave alone is Chionodoxa (glory of the snow). It's easy to grow and although the attractive blue flowers are small, they often reseed to form large colonies over time.
Finally a longtime favorite of mine is Fritillaria. Squirrels never bother these unique and colorful spring bloomers. In fact old time gardeners often plant the bulbs of F. imperialis 'Corona Imperial' in with their tulips, because the big, beautiful orange or yellow flowers smell like a fox and repel squirrels as well as rabbits and deer. Finally, and most importantly, don’t forget to plant them. There’s nothing worse than finding a forgotten bag of spring blooming bulbs sitting in the garage in spring!
The place to find most of these bulbs and gazillions of others is at the Hardy Plant Society of Washington’s Annual Fall Bulb and Plant Sale, held Oct. 16th at the Center for Urban Horticulture, 3501 N.E. 41st St. in Seattle. Find more information at hardyplantsocietywa.org.