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When and how to start planting flowering bulbs

A single long-stemmed butter yellow tulip spreads its cheer.
A single long-stemmed butter yellow tulip spreads its cheer. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Q: I’ve never planted flowering bulbs. What time is right? — Angela in Morro Bay

A: A little work mid-to-late fall will reward you dramatically come springtime. Flowering bulbs come in every color of the rainbow, and more. Who does not admire tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, and the many other varieties of spring bulbs?

Begin by choosing healthy bulbs that are not dry, withered, spongy, or moldy. Then choose the right location. Most bulbs require a sunny location and soil that is rich in organic matter, well-drained, and slightly acidic (ph 6-7). To improve existing soil, whether it is too sandy or too heavy, add organic material. Bulbs can also be planted in containers.

Planting depth is not uniform for all bulbs. In general, plant the bulbs to a depth of three times their height. For example, plant allium 8 inches deep, crocus 3 inches deep, daffodils 6 inches deep, hyacinth 7 inches deep, and tulips 6 inches deep.

Place bone meal or super phosphate in the bottom of the planting hole and plant the bulb with its point up, which will become the stem. If rodents are a problem, plant your bulbs in a cage made of 1/4 - to 1/2 -inch metal mesh. Water thoroughly after planting. During fall and winter, irrigation is only needed in the absence of rainfall. The premise is to prevent rotting in wet weather.

Bulbs look best in clumps or drifts. To get a natural looking effect, either dig a large area and plant several bulbs at once, or simply toss the bulbs into the air and plant them where they fall. You will be surprised. To make sure that you do not disturb or forget about the bulbs, mark and label each bulb you plant.

When bulbs finish flowering, let the foliage die back naturally before you cut it off at ground level. It is unsightly for a little while, but that time is important to the bulb because it will continue to photosynthesize and store up energy it will need to produce flowers next year.

If you think some of your bulbs are overcrowded, dig them up and divide them after the foliage completely dies back.

Visit http://ucanr.edu/sites/mgslo to see our monthly garden chores for San Luis Obispo County.

CONTACT THE UCCE MASTER GARDENERS

In San Luis Obispo call 781-5939, Arroyo Grande, 473-7190 and Templeton, 434-4105. Visit us at http://ucanr.edu/sites/mgslo or email us at anrmgslo@ucanr.edu  . Follow us on Instagram at slo_mgs and like us on Facebook. Informative garden workshops are held the third Saturday of every month, 10 a.m. to noon at 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo. Garden docents are available after the workshop until 1 p.m. To request a tour of the garden, call 781-5939.

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