Begin your spring flower display by planting bulbs this fall. It seems like a lot of work now, but after the long winter, you will really enjoy those blooms.
In addition to the standards, such as tulips and daffodils, try some of the other small flowering bulbs. For example, anemones, snowdrops, and winter aconite all bloom very early and have especially beautiful flowers. Snowdrops are among the smallest and daintiest of the spring-flowering bulbs and often flower in early March before all the snow has gone. The latest to bloom are alliums at the end of June.
Bulbs can be planted in perennial borders, rock gardens, or naturalized in the lawn and wildflower garden. Grow bulbs for beauty, fragrance, cut flower use, or combinations of these. The informal growth of plants such as daffodils adapt well to naturalized plantings but also do well in small groupings or foundation plantings. Tulips, on the other hand, are very formal and look best when planted in clumps or beds of one color. Hyacinths are so stately that a few plants carefully placed will provide colorful spring interest and fragrance.
Buy your bulbs early while the selection is good. Select bulbs that are firm and free from soft or rotting spots or other signs of disease. Plant bulbs anytime between September 30 and November 30 in the Midwest. The ideal planting time is about four weeks before the ground freezes, which allows the bulb to grow some roots before the ground freezes.
The most important part of bulb planting is proper depth. As a rule of thumb, plant the bulb two to three times as deep as it is wide. Plant large bulbs such as tulips and daffodils about 8 inches deep and smaller bulbs like crocus about 3 to 4 inches deep. Measure planting depth from the bottom of the bulb. Bulbs are planted with the nose of the bulb upward and the flat base down.
If you have problems with squirrels or other wildlife digging up your bulbs, consider placing chicken wire over the top of bulbs in the hole before filling with soil. Our soils typically have enough phosphorus, so bonemeal is usually not needed.
You can see how I plant bulbs on my YouTube video at go.illinois.edu/ILRiverHortvideos. I demonstrate three planting methods: bulb planter, trowel, and auger.
To learn even more, view our Four Seasons Gardening webinar Spring Flowering Bulbs by Horticulture Educator Jennifer Fishburn. The program is presented live for home viewing on September 11 at 1:30 p.m. and again on September 13 at 6:30 p.m. Following the session, a taped version is available on YouTube. You'll find registration and YouTube information at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/hmrs/4seasons.
Spring flowering bulbs are a great addition to a garden.