Tme to plant now
Tulips, daffodils and other flower bulb favorites must be planted in the fall if they are to bloom next spring. All are widely available from mail-order sources, garden centers, supermarkets and national retailers. But no matter where bulbs are bought, a few simple tips can make anyone a bulb expert destined for an "excellent fall bulb planting adventure." Following are words of advice from the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center in New York City.
*The bigger the bulb, the bigger the flower.
Flower bulbs are sold by size or caliber, denoted by a number (usually in centimeters) that refers to the circumference of the bulb measured at its thickest part. There are basically three sizes for most commercially sold Dutch bulbs: small, medium and top size. Tulips, for example, are considered small bulbs if they are 10 to 11 centimeters around, medium bulbs at 11 to 12 centimeters and large bulbs if they are more than 12 centimeters around. To qualify for export under Dutch law, tulip bulbs must be at least 10 centimeters around (except for naturally smaller species and botanical tulip bulbs, which must be at least eight centimeters around).
Small bulbs of the same variety will be just as healthy as top size bulbs, though their flowers will be smaller. Choose top size bulbs for places where you want to make a big show, such as along a walk or by an entrance, where large flowers grouped together can make a big impact. Less expensive small and medium sized bulbs can be perfect for places most often viewed from a distance, where lots of flowers planted together are needed for a big show.
*Choose firm, healthy bulbs.
When buying in a shop, or receiving bulbs from a mail-order firm, check the bulbs to make sure that they're firm and healthy. Bulbs that are soft and mushy have likely been improperly stored. It's not uncommon for bulbs to have a few marks on them, but reject bulbs that have mold or fungus. Again, these bulbs have likely been mishandled at some point during their processing. Don't worry about torn tunics. Bulbs such as tulips and hyacinths are covered by an onion-like papery covering called a tunic. Often this is cracked and peeling, or even gone altogether, exposing the bulb underneath. This is nothing to worry about. A torn or cracked tunic may even help a bulb to root more quickly.
*Buy Now, Plant Later.
One simple trick to success with spring flower bulbs is to buy and plant them at the optimum times. Ideally, bulbs should be planted at least six weeks before hard, ground-freezing frost can be expected in your area. The bulbs need time to root and establish themselves. Planting bulbs too early can lead to fungus or disease problems. A good rule of thumb is to plant bulbs when the average night time temperatures in your area are in the 50 degrees to 40-degree range. At that point the soil temperature should be just perfect for tucking bulbs in for their winter's rest underground.
If you want particular varieties, it's often necessary to shop in advance of the right planting period. Mail-order companies often don't ship bulbs until the appropriate planting time in the buyer's region, no matter when the bulbs are ordered. But at local retailers, that's not the case. If you can't plant your bulbs right after purchase, store them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Once conditions become optimal, plant them as soon as possible.
If you miss planting your bulbs at the optimal time, don't wait for spring or next fall. Bulbs aren't like seeds -- they won't survive out of the ground indefinitely. Even if you find a sack of tulips or daffodils in January or February, plant them and take your chances. No matter what, they're better off giving it a fighting chance in the ground or a chilled pot than wasting away in the garage or cupboard. Flower bulbs are survivors by nature's design. Every year brings abundant stories about bulbs that bloom after being planted under the most improbable circumstances.