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Plan now to enjoy spring's blooming bulbs

Yellow blossoms of King Alfred trumpet daffodil.
uc regents
master gardener 12-8-10
Yellow blossoms of King Alfred trumpet daffodil. uc regents master gardener 12-8-10

Q. What are the easiest spring-blooming bulbs to naturalize? Can I plant them now?Laurel Davar, San Luis Obispo

A. Local gardeners seeking spring color without much effort can plant spring-blooming bulbs until around Christmas in South County; in the north they should be going into the ground soon, before hard frosts.

Bulbs of the family “Narcissus” are reliable favorites – daffodils and narcissus, (sometimes called jonquils), available in many shapes and sizes. These bulbs will almost certainly give you lovely results the first spring after planting. Gophers and deer ignore them – main enemies seem to be snails and slugs that tatter blossoms.

Achieving repeat performance of these beauties may be a little more difficult but is definitely worth a try. Originally native to rocky slopes in Europe, they like good drainage, winter cooling and rain, but need little summer water. If you wish bulbs to ‘naturalize’ (multiply and bloom for years) bear these conditions in mind. Some gardeners report that smaller varieties of narcissus (“tazetta” and “paper whites”) are easier to naturalize than giant daffodils.

The heavy clay of many gardens here is not optimum for bulbs – clay soil and warm winters plus regular summer watering will mean the end of bloom for most daffodils after two or three years. In clay soil, try to plant on a slope or where drainage is good. Add organic amendments, perhaps raising the level of soil 2-3 inches before digging the planting hole. Spring-blooming bulbs are good under deciduous trees. They like winter sun when leaves and blossoms are forming, but appreciate summer shade in hot areas.

Tulips and hyacinths require 4-6 weeks of pre-chilling in the refrigerator before planting and they seldom re-bloom without special treatment. Most bulbs will come with specific instructions for planting and feeding or you can call your local Master Gardeners for advice.