The Plant Doctor: Planting bulbs ensure blossoms in the Spring

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Millions of bulbs are planted each year by professional and amateur gardeners hoping to be rewarded with a spectacular array of flowers in the spring. Unfortunately, poor understanding of the basics of bulbs and planting techniques can result in wasted effort and poor results.

Let's start with some of the fundamentals so that we can better appreciate these storage tanks of potentially beautiful spring flower presentations.

Bulbs are essentially a short underground stem with thick, fleshy leaves that contain stored food. Onions, tulips, daffodils and lilies are but a few of the more common types of bulb-producing plants. Bulbs help the plant survive dormant periods. Those are times during the year when it is too hot, cold or dry. During the growing season, the fleshy leaves supply the growing shoot with food until it produces leaves for photosynthesis.

Tubers such as dahlias and some begonias: and corms such as those produced by crocuses and gladioli are different types of bulbs.

Bulbs are sold in their dormant stage. When they are available, usually by early fall, they should be planted as soon as possible in order to ensure survival during the winter and proper growth and development during the spring.

A bulb-planting tool will allow you to plant individual bulbs by producing soil plugs in which to place the bulbs. Planting bulbs in large masses is best accomplished by digging a trench or bed and bunching the bulbs in order to create vivid, contrasting colors and combinations.

The nursery or distributor will generally recommend the depth at which the bulbs should be planted. For instance , hyacinths are best planted at a depth of-8 inches, tulips to 4-6 inches, gladioli, daffodils, and dahlias to 3-4 inches. I usually place some phosphate at the bottom of the trench or hole prior to planting the bulb.

Phosphorous encourages root development, a much-needed characteristic, to ensure the survival of the bulb before the very cold weather sets in.

Plant bulbs with their tips facing up, otherwise the bulb will expend too much energy righting itself and result in poor flowering. Punching bulbs together will make the most effective display. In order to accomplish this , the bulbs should be planted close to each other, but should not be touching. Carefully replace the soil without disturbing the position of the bulbs. Add a layer of mulch to retain warmth and moisture. Water daily until the frigid weather sets in; you want to keep the bulbs moist so that they continue to produce roots. Remember, the operative word is moist, not drenched.

The job's done; now let nature do her thing and await the spring blossoms as a reward for your effort.

Fall Planting Pointers

Fall's moderate temperatures, and often abundant rainfall, make for an excellent seasonal period for the planting of shrubs, perennials and trees. In many instances, the stock item that will be purchased for planting will have been grown in a container. The plant, confined to the container for sometimes several seasons, often becomes root-bound. To disrupt the girdling root pattern that develops in container-grown plants, follow these recommendations:

*Remove small plants from the pot. Using a sharp kitchen knife, make four to six vertical cuts on the sides of the root ball, and an X on the bottom. The cuts will stimulate root growth into the soil.

*If, however, you are planting large foliage that is 12-16 inches across, you will have to conduct a somewhat more drastic procedure ... a technique known as butterflying. In this procedure, a slice is made up through the center of the ball .

Stop about three inches from the top. Then spread the two sections of the roots in the soil This somewhat Draconian procedure will encourage root development into the soil that is nearer the surface where more oxygen is available. This is particularly important when planting is conducted in heavy soil that has poor drainage. In either case, keep the soil around the plants evenly moist until the ground freezes.

Questions or comments on gardening and plant care should be addressed to: The Plant Doctor, c/o Queens Publishing Corp., 41-02 Bell Blvd, Bayside, NY 11361 or e-mail plant.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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