Fall is Bulb Planting Time – For Some Varieties

Flowers from bulbs can make a very beautiful bed, or can be a royal pain in the A**! Things have to be just right or the mountain of bulbs that you chose from a pile of catalogs, and finally ordered in the middle of Summer, will wind up being a waste of time and money.

Daffodils Blooming

Daffodils blooming in a mass planting landscape bed.

Often, 100’s of bulbs are planted in a bed, then you wait patiently for next Spring to see your bounty, and…..nothing, or very little bulb activity and lots of disappointment.

Bulbs are a little different than planting fresh live Spring Bedding plants. They are planted in Fall, for Spring bloomers, or in the Summer for Fall Bloomers, or planted in Spring for Summer bloomers. Live bedding plants are bought as a growing baby flower and planted to grow through the Spring, Summer and into Fall until the first frost.

Bulbs also like a well-drained soil, rich in organic matter. So that means in soil that doesn’t stay saturated with water and isn’t mostly clay. In our area of West TN, that means we have to amend the soil with organic material, mulch, potting soil, compost, or some other organic material that has completely decomposed.

Using a “green” material, (organic material that hasn’t completely decomposed) will cause more problems for your bed than good, so don’t use piles of fresh sawdust, wood chips, or fresh mulch that isn’t already very decomposed. As these materials go through the process of decomposing, they actually use nitrogen from the soil for their own use, and will create heat in the process. This is where the term “it’s too hot” comes from, when referring to mulching materials.

compost

Fresh compost from a home composter

Use only bagged goods that have already reached decomposition, or compost that has reached complete decomposition. Till the soil in these beds that bulbs will be planted in, using shovels or power equipment, if you have enough room. Till the soil first, then pour the amendments on the soil, till again to mix into the soil. Then plant.

Some common questions, and the answers to them are the following, from three bulb wholesale operations. If you need to know how to grow something, go to the source, someone who has been doing it for years. These three account for a major portion of the annual bulb sales in the US each year.

How can I keep daffodils blooming as perennials for a lot of years?

Plant them in full sun in well drained soil.

Before planting, add compost to the soil and top dress with more compost each fall. The addition of organic matter keeps the soil healthy and enables the bulbs to absorb the nutrients they need in addition to the nutrients acquired through photosynthesis.

Wait to cut the leaves when they begin to turn yellow when the photosynthesis is finished, which usually happens about 8 to 12 weeks after they finish blooming.

Keep artificial irrigation away from the area during the bulb’s summer dormancy. Hot weather makes the soil warm; adding water to warm soil around dormant bulbs can cause some to rot.

I have a garden that I want to continue blooming during the growing season, from spring through fall. How can I accomplish this?

Plant in layers:

  • Tulips, lilies, large alliums, camassia – 10 inches deep
  • Daffodils, Hyacinthus, Hyacinthoides, Leucojum, Muscari – 6 inches deep
  • Crocus, Anemones, Ipheion, Chionodoxa, Scilla – 3 inches deep

Plant companions on top of the bulbs; don’t worry, the bulbs will work their way around them.

  • Hemerocallis, Echinacea, Monarda, Phlox, Achillea, Asclepias, ornamental grasses – full sun
  • Lobelia, Thermopsis, groundcovers like Vinca minor, Ajuga, Lamium – part shade
  • Add long blooming annuals “under the arms” of the perennials in early summer.
  • Portulaca, marigolds, petunias – full sun
  • Geranium, Osteospermum – part shade
  • Begonia, caladium, coleus – shade
Fall bulb planting schedule

Fall Bulb Planting Schedule

Layering the bulbs, planting perennial companions in the same bed and adding long-blooming annuals for the summer will ensure a colorful garden for most of the growing season.

What are some flower bulbs for my spring garden. I haven’t worked with flower bulbs before and I don’t know where to start. What should I do?

We’d suggest that you map out the garden beds, and determine the color palette and general ambiance you would like for the garden: Is it more formal or informal? We usually recommend planting 80 percent of the garden with perennial flower bulbs and 20 percent with tulips and hyacinths, which will need to be planted each fall. Tulips and hyacinths have the broadest rainbow of colors available, and by replanting them every fall, you can keep the garden’s look fresh and exciting by changing their colors.

The primary perennial flower bulbs to include are narcissi, allium, fritillaria, lilies and herbaceous peonies, all of which may be planted either in clusters for a more orderly look or in drifts for a more natural look. Finally, finesse the garden with plantings of smaller bulbs like Muscari, Scilla, Chionodoxa and Anemone blanda. Tip: To help keep clients really happy, plant a cutting garden with varieties for the future and bring them spring preview bouquets before placing their fall bulb orders.

I want flower bulbs in our woods, and want them to look like they’ve always been there. I’ve only ever planted tulips before and we have major deer issues. Are there any other bulbs that I can use?

There is a whole range of deer and rodent-resistant naturalizing flower bulbs that can be planted in drifts to sparkle in woodlands from early to late spring. In early spring, Eranthis hyemalis, the winter aconite, adorns forest floors with 4-inch-tall, bright yellow flowers, while Galanthus, the snowdrop, charms us with 6-inch-tall milky-white flowers. One of the most prolifically planted woodland dwellers is the Narcissus, usually planted in loose groups with no apparent design. Hyacinthoides non-scripta, the English bluebell, yields breathtaking seas of 18-inchtall, shimmering violet-blue flowers. Scilla, Erythronium pagoda, Geranium tuberosum and Ornithogalum nutans Silver Bells are also lovely planted in seemingly haphazard drifts. Camassia, a northwest U.S. native, is perfect in irregular drifts in the dappled sunlight of the edge of woods. In just a few years, any of these flower bulbs will appear as if they are age-old woodland inhabitants.

bulb planting depth

How deep should bulbs be planted?

Also, be sure to plant your bulbs at the proper depth. Some are deep planted, while others are to be barely covered with soil, the difference can be having a bare bed or having one that is covered with beauty.

We have a house still under construction. There is only fill where the gardens are going to be. We don’t have the go-ahead on foundation plantings, but want something in bloom next spring. What can we do?

This first phase should focus on laying out only the bare minimum, mandatory beds around the foundation of the front of the house. The soil must be amended so that these beds have good neutral pH garden soil, close to a sandy loam, with reliable drainage. Determine the square footage and the color palette pleasing to the homeowners. Select earlier blooming tulip bulbs and hyacinth bulbs that will create a prominent, yet economical, display, but that can be treated as annuals. You’ll need about five bulbs per square foot for a somewhat dense planting. When the flowers start to die back in the spring, they can be removed, bulb and all, so that work may proceed with any hardscape, foundation plantings and other beds.

We have serious animal issues — both deer and rodents. What are my options?

Flower bulb eating squirrel

A bulb eating squirrel

Deer and rodents can wreak havoc on bulbs, as they can on any other type of ornamental plant. The strategies for dealing with these uninvited guests:

Plant bulbs that animals can’t or prefer not to eat. This is the easiest and most affordable option. It also means telling your client that she can’t have tulips or crocuses. So what can she have? Daffodils, first and foremost. All daffodils are toxic to mammals and will not be eaten. The same applies to other members of the amaryllis family: snowdrops (Galanthus) and snowflakes (Leucojum). Beyond that, there is a small group of bulbs that deer and rodents may sample but generally avoid: crown imperials (Fritillaria imperialis), glory of the snow (Chionodoxa) and winter aconite (Eranthis), among them. Deer and rodents don’t necessarily have the same taste in bulbs. Deer, for example, steer clear of the ornamental onions (Allium), but rodents have been known to eat the bulbs.

Bulb beds can be rewarding, or as we said, dissappointing. Do your homework, choose the right variety, get soil amendments in the bed, plant, and be patient.

Too big of a job for you? Give us a call LawnMasters can take care of hauling the soil, amendments, bed prep, planting and let you do the waiting.

Your Choice in Variety of Liriope Could Haunt You

Liriope (monkey grass) is a very common landscape plant all across the US. It is generally used as an accent plant or a border plant, but many times is used in a mass planting under trees or on hillsides that are difficult to maintain.

It’s very important to choose the right variety for each purpose because different varieties have different growth habits. The picture below shows a variety of Mondo grass that the homeowner planted in a strip along the driveway and sidewalk maybe 15 years ago. Now it has grown out from the concrete 6 to 10 feet in places. They thought it would stay in a clump.

mondo grass taking over a lawn

Mondo grass that has spread out of it’s original space into the lawn

This Liriope is commonly called Mondo grass,Ophiopogon japonicus.  There is another variety closely related to this one that is Dwarf Mondo. Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nanus’

These liriopes are dark green in color, no variegation and are hardy in zones 6-11.

These are best suited in locations where their crawling growth habit is not a problem. Remember that they spread by sending out an underground shoot, or rhizome, which will surface a few inches away starting a new plant and new roots.

As you can tell by these pictures, they will take over a lawn choking out the original turfgrass. This section of mondo grass is so thick that weeds will barely grow in it. If you have an area on a hill, under trees or any area where regular turf grass won’t grow, but you don’t want to have shrubs in those areas, this may be a good choice.

mondo-grass2

Mondo grass spreading over a front lawn. It used to be right against the driveway, but over the years has taken over.

The regular mondo grass will grow to a height of approximately 8″ to 10″. The dwarf variety will only reach 2″ to 3″. The two can be used in closely related areas of the landscape for a contrast in size and texture.

This type of mass planting can be an inexpensive way to cover up wide areas of a landscape to reduce maintenance and mulching expenses later as the landscape matures. Once the bed grows in full, weeds are not much of a problem. Keep the area fertilized and weed control granules applied during the grow-in period. You can find more information on weed control in the beds on our website here.

One of the most commonly used liriopes is “variegated Lilly turf” or Liriope muscari ‘Variegata’. It is a variety that will stay in it’s assigned space when planted and will not crawl. It also has a pretty purple/blue bloom that is a bonus throughout the Summer.

varigated liriope, monkey grass

Variegated liriope or variegated monkey grass is one of the most commonly used border plants/accent plants in landscaping.

This variety is commonly used as a border plant, lined up along the edge of the landscape bed, often running alongside a driveway, walkway or other hardscapes. It can also be used in the middle of a landscape as an accent plant. It will not crawl but will get larger and thicker as it matures. It can be used as a mass planting however, large landscape beds look very nice when an evenly spaced planting of variegated liriope is planted over a hillside, slope or other areas that require reduced maintenance.

There are hundreds of varieties of liriope available from growers across the United States, many can be ordered online and will arrive in a box with moist paper wrapped around it. The plants will be smaller, maybe plug size up to 2 to 4 inch containers, depending on the grower. These can be purchased for anywhere from .20 cents to $1 each, again, depending on the size.

Compare that to $6 to $8 dollars a pot for a mature 1 gallon pot, you can save yourself thousands on larger landscape projects where as many as hundreds of pots, or even thousands, could be needed.

We often say that if you have more patience than money, buy small and keep them fertilized, watered, mulched and weeded, and you will have a full bed within a couple of years. If you are impatient and have the money, by all means, write the check and plant the big plant!

Black Mondo Grass / Lilly Turf

Black Mondo Grass

The Black Mondo Grass in the picture to left, is an interesting choice as it’s not used as often and can provide a striking contrast in color and texture for a change.

In addition to the look of the plant, as you choose what color, height and spread of the plant, also look at the rest of the horticulture information on the plants you are buying. Just because the plant is only 4″ tall right now doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way, or that it will stay in it’s planted spot.

Many times a year we receive calls from customers who have let their landscapes get out of control from lack of pruning, or just simply planting the wrong plant in the wrong location.

Average homeowners don’t have a lot of landscaping knowledge and often choose a plant based on simply what it looks like in the nursery or garden center, and not based on its horticultural specifications. We routinely cut out, pull out or otherwise remove overgrown plants that were poorly chosen. In the long run, this was wasted money.

Try to resist impulse buying while in the garden center, if something catches your eye and you would like to have it, think about where it will grow best in your landscape based on its size, growth habit, mature height and spread, color, foliage habits, sun requirements, and even water requirements.

If you’re not sure if it will work or not, you might want to go home and look at the location and consider all of the possibilities of having that plant, in that location. Choosing the wrong plant can come back to haunt you later.

For more information about lawn care and landscaping tips, check our website. For a free landscaping estimate or lawn care analysis and estimate, give our office a call at 731.642.2876 or at 888.664.LAWN