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Plant bulbs now for early spring colour

As the trees turn shades of gold and formations of geese fly south, it is time to plant bulbs that will bring the first burst of spring colour to your garden.

Bulbs are very easy to plant. They tolerate a wide range of soil but do not like wet feet. As a general rule, just dig a hole about three times the height of the bulb, place the bulb pointed end up, cover with soil and water well. Groups of bulbs look more natural than straight rows or single soldiers.

Tulips are the best-known spring bulb and come in an incredible range of colours, shapes, sizes and blooming times. Tulip bulbs are readily available and can be successfully planted later in the fall than other bulbs.

Tulips, Tulipa, are hardy, low-maintenance, prefer a drier area and will naturalize. Tulipada tarda is a cheery yellow and white, while Tulipa Violet Queen is a rose colour.

Daffodils, Narcissus, are versatile and hardy, from the tiny Tete-a-Tete to Ice Follies, Dutch Master, Mount Hood, the reliable King Alfred and hundreds more.

Grape hyacinths, Muscari, are bright, beautiful and have a long flowering period and longevity in your garden.

Crocuses (not to be confused with Anemone patens, the Manitoba floral emblem) provide very early spring colour of yellow, purples and white and then almost disappear until the following spring.

Snowdrops are incredibly tough, blooming while the ground is still frozen. The tiny bulbs tend to dry out, so it is advisable to soak them overnight before planting and then plant as early as possible in the fall.

Also early and very hardy, are Squills, Scilla. They are primarily a brilliant blue but may also be white, pink or purple.

Alliums are reliable, long-lived beauties that can be shades of purple, white, blue, pink or yellow, ranging in height from 15 to 150 centimetres with spherical blooms from two cm to a spectacular 40 cm in diameter.

If you are interested in more than a feast for the eyes, garlic also belongs to the Allium or onion family and must be planted in the fall. The individual cloves should be planted point up, about 15 cm apart and covered with five cm of soil.

If deer are a problem in your area, choose deer resistant bulbs. Daffodils and alliums are safe choices. Grape hyacinths are advertised as deer-resistant but hungry deer relish the green foliage and have mown them to the ground in my yard and spat out the unpalatable blossoms like blue confetti on my lawn.

Bulbs are geophytes, which means they are perennial plants with underground food storage organs. They have everything they need to bloom in that magical little bulb. However, they are perennials that you will want to nourish for future years, so it is generally suggested that fertilizer be added at planting time.

Some gardeners use bone meal, which is high in phosphorus, while others use special bulb fertilizer such as 10-52-10. This year I am adding a whole raw egg to the bulb planting hole. As it decomposes, it will add phosphorus as well as nitrogen and calcium to the soil. This would be a good use for surplus or stale eggs.

It is very important to resist the urge to tidy up. Instead, allow the bulb foliage to grow and age naturally after blooming so that the bulb may be replenished for next year’s bloom. It works well to interplant with perennials or annuals, which will hide the ripening foliage.

If you have never planted bulbs for spring bloom, try a few this fall. Their spring bloom will be like an unexpected gift. If you already enjoy tulips or daffodils, be adventurous and try planting a new species this fall.

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