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Plant Spring Flowering Bulbs in the Fall

by Carol Gilmore, Colorado Master GardenerSM

September and October are the time to plant bulbs for beautiful spring blossoms. The bright colors of crocus in early spring, the nodding blooms of yellow daffodils and the vivid-hued tulips at Easter can only be enjoyed if these bulbs are planted in the fall.

Photo by Carol Gilmore

PURCHASING

Shop local garden centers now to get the first pick of flowering bulbs. Find the biggest bulb for the variety and hand-select individual bulbs to ensure they are free from defects. Unique, specialty or hard-to-find bulbs can be purchased from mail order bulb catalogs.

VARIETIES

The large showy Dutch or Darwin tulip may be what first comes to mind when growing bulbs in the garden. These don’t always grow well in the Front Range climate so they may need replanted every few years. Some bulbs do better than others in terms of naturalizing to become a permanent part of the landscape. Crocus, daffodils, grape hyacinths and species tulips are good for naturalizing and spreading.

Tulips that grow better in the Front Range climate include species such as bakeri, batlinii, trada, raestans or clusiana. Although these tulips are not as showy as the larger and flashier Dutch or Darwin tulips, they do have the ability to last longer in the sometimes harsh environment.

Daffodils come in a wide range of colors and sizes and are also deer resistant. Grape hyacinth, scilla, and Dutch iris are also generally considered to be deer resistant. When selecting bulbs, plan carefully for a variety of bloom times. A wide range of bloom times can spread out the season of colorful display for up to a couple of months.

PLANTING Prepare the planting bed by loosening and amending the soil with well-composted organic material. Add a slow release phosphorus fertilizer, such as 0-20-0. Plant a grouping of the same bulbs together to give a conspicuous splash of color. Consider early, mid- and late-season varieties for an ongoing show in the spring. Bulbs are planted with the tip side up, at a depth of about 3-4 times the height of the bulb and should be planted in a well-drained location. CSU recommends mulching the planted bulbs to protect them over the winter. Bulbs can perform in either sun or filtered shade, depending on the variety. Bulbs provide their own food for growing and flowering, but it is a good idea to spend time preparing the planting area for continuous flowering in multiple seasons.

CARE AND MAINTENANCE

After blooming, remove the spent flowers but allow the foliage to wither naturally before removing it. This feeds the bulb for next year’s blooms. If possible, incorporate some groundcovers or early spring perennials in the planting plan to hide any unsightly bulb foliage. Some species of bulbs may need to be divided after several seasons and can be dug and divided after the leaves have withered.

Plant spring flowering bulbs now to provide enjoyable blooms for seasons to come. Refer to the CSU Fact Sheet for more information on fall planted bulbs:

Please visit extension.colostate.edu for information on yard and garden topics.

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