Prepare soil well for good fall bulbs

Here we are in the first week of autumn. Fall is the season for planting all the wonderful varieties of spring flowering bulbs. Depending on the number of bulbs you intend to plant, it can be either a great joy to anticipate the earliest flowers of the year or you may be facing a bigger task than you bargained for.

Planting bulbs properly is a task that should not be taken lightly. If you truly want bulbs to come back year after year with fabulous blooms, you must do two things properly: select the right type of bulbs and prepare the soil for them adequately.

Not all bulbs are created equal in terms of their willingness to return year after year with good results. If this is what you are after, I suggest you look for bulbs that are recom-mended as being good for natura-lizing.

Natura-lizing is a gardening term that means you shouldn't have to replant after your initial planting and that the bulbs will increase in number on their own. It doesn't mean that you don't have to care for them at all.

This is where many gardeners fail with bulbs. After throwing them in an undersized, underprepared planting hole with a pinch of bonemeal, said gardener then expects to reap gorgeous stands of tulips or daffodils year after year. I'm afraid that were it that easy, everyone would already have yards full of bulbs.

Bulbs that are reliable members of my permanent garden include muscari (grape hyacinth), snowdrops, crocus, dwarf iris, scilla and anemone.

I'm sure you may have others that have performed well for you, but these are the ones that have proven themselves to me over and over again around the Rogue Valley. Be careful with selecting daffodils and tulips.

They are not as reliable, especially tulips. Here are some to try: daffs; trumpet types, jonquils, long cup, short cup, tazetta, poeticus and many of the species type. With tulips there are fewer choices: greigii, fosteriana, the botanical species and the Darwin hybrids are worthy of your efforts.

Oregon has a climate that suits most of the spring flowering bulbs. Most want a long, cool moist period (fall and winter) to develop roots underground followed by a warm, sunny growing and blooming season (spring). Then comes the dry rest period (summer) and we start all over again. This describes the climate of most of our state. As long as we keep specific cultural requirements in mind (sun/shade, etc.) at planting time, we have a great chance of having a beautiful bulb garden without having to modify our weather artificially.

The next piece of the puzzle is the hardest. This is where the work of planting comes in. Bulbs are living, growing plants that have all the needs of the other classes of plants. Since we receive them in their dormant state, where they have lain out in a store on a shelf, sometimes for weeks, it's hard to think of them as delicate or having special needs.

Thanks to aggressive marketing programs, we often think of them as plug and plant and move on to the next. After all, whoever thought up the bulb planting tool? A marketing guy, probably. I'd love to have him come to my house and try to plant with one.

If we all took the time to prepare the soil for our bulbs as thoroughly as we do for our annuals, I wouldn't be writing about this right now. If you do, you will be rewarded many times over for your efforts. Just remember that the larger bulbs get planted quite deeply and need to have the area below the planting depth, where the roots grow, be improved.

This can involve double digging if you're truly fastidious. It will at least require you to work in organic material with a spade, as rototillers usually only go about 6 inches deep. That's the depth where we start planting the larger bulbs. It is a fair amount of work. But think of that warm spring day when the daffodils are turning their trumpets toward the sun and the joy they provide, and I think you'll agree it's worth your time and effort.

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