Shop for bulbs now, but hold off on planting

Q. Shopping at one of the big membership stores earlier this week I noticed a display of bulbs. All sorts of prepackaged irises, tulips, daffodils, crocus and a few others I’m not familiar with. I was tempted to buy some but isn’t it too early to plant the spring blooming bulbs now? – B.S., Albuquerque

This time of year the bulb choices will do nothing but expand, so if you see something that trips your trigger, yes, by all means go ahead and purchase now. Because if you don’t, they could be quickly sold out from under you, causing a sort of yearning for what might have been.

But plant now? Goodness no!

I’d suggest you wait for the soil to cool and the daytime temperatures to lessen. I’m ready for it to cool down trust me, so be patient for a while since the soil is still very warm.

With the nighttime temps starting to cool – that’s most refreshing – it won’t be long before spring bulb planting season will be upon us.

Meanwhile, you can plan and purchase any special bulbs you might find. Storing your newly purchased treasures is easy. Aim to keep them dry, cool and preferably dark. Notice if any are packaged in unbreathing plastic bags, and if so, decant them into a paper bag, keeping the original package label stapled to it so you can keep tabs on who’s who.

Weekly, until planting time arrives, you might consider adjusting the packages so everybody gets a certain amount of fresh air circulating around them.

As to planning a place to plant spring bloomers, well that’s pretty easy. You’re looking for spots that get quite a bit of sun. On average six – eight is better – hours of sunlight a day in the spring. As the seasons change and the sun rises higher in summer, getting a bit of a break from intense sunshine could be a blessing.

Next, look at the spot you’re contemplating planting. Will you be able to walk all around it or does the space have a definite front and back?

Planting in a round you want to place the taller varieties of bulbs, like the King Alfred daffodils, fritillaria and tall alliums, in the middle of the circle and graduate down in average bulb heights to the shortest choices on the edge.

In a front to back bed, place the bulbs that will get the tallest in the back, gradually moving to the forefront edging the spot with the shorties.

If you’ve chosen a place to create a spring bulb garden, now is the time to rough it up. If the area is ‘virgin,’ get in there with a sharp spade and dig at least eight inches down, turning each spading over to get the soil used to being moved. Consider top dressing the area with a stout layer of manure or finely minced compost beforehand so as you’re spading the areas, those soil conditioners get worked into the ground. Bulbs don’t need gobs of amendments as they are usually very sturdy creatures, but some amending of the soil will always help.

After you’ve turned the soil and broken up any clumps there might be, use a stiff-tined rake to smooth the spots and then give the area a good sprinkling of water to settle it. Now keep your eye on the space because there will be plenty of time for dormant weed seed to consider popping up. After all, you just preformed the steps they need in order to awaken. Movement and water usually is enough to wake up any dormant weed seed.

So every couple of days get out there on weed patrol and pluck them right out of your softened ground. A secret is if you water a bit before weed hunting, they are more likely easier to pull. Just pitch them in the trash – don’t compost them.

Just before the time comes to plant the bulbs, give the spots a good raking to refluff the area so to speak.

When will it be time to plant? Well I’m not going to even think of setting a bulb in the ground this year before late September. With the gardening gods working to settle the heat we’ve had this year, that should be the time.

I’m not done discussing bulbs, but for now you have two chores. Purchase and store your treasures as you find them and get out there, choosing the spots where you’re going to plant and start to prepare those areas. It’ll keep your itchy fingers busy until planting time.

Happy Diggin’ In!

Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to [email protected]


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