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Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, oh my! How to prepare now for your spring garden

To get the commercial look of a tall, big mass of color or an even appearance when it comes to tulips, the bulbs should be treated as an annual not a perennial.
To get the commercial look of a tall, big mass of color or an even appearance when it comes to tulips, the bulbs should be treated as an annual not a perennial. Kansas State University Research and Extension

The transition from summer to fall means the colorful annual flowers are fading. Once the annuals are damaged by frost and removed, it’s time to plant bulbs that will welcome spring with a splash of color.

Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocus and other species are a nice addition. For best results, spring flowering bulbs should be planted in October through mid-November. Once planted in the cool moist soil, these parched globes will be ready to grow.

Fall-planted bulbs have time to establish a strong root system to keeps it strong into spring. Start them off right by ensuring the moisture level in the soil is decent.

Purchase large bulbs for the best effect. Each planted bulb contains the flower bud set, so the bigger the bulb, the larger the flower. It just needs the dormant season to develop.

Planting depth is especially important if your goal is for them to return each year. As a guide, the bulb is usually planted two to three times its diameter deep, but follow the directions on the package.

If given a range of planting depth, I would advise with our clay soils to go with the shallower depth. When in doubt, contact your local extension office.

People ask how they can get the commercial look of a tall, big mass of color or an even appearance when it comes to tulips. This is achieved when the bulbs are treated as an annual not a perennial.

After the tulips bloom, remove them and replace with summer annuals. Treating tulips as an annual and discarding them is hard to imagine for many people, but it has its advantages.

Besides achieving a stunning effect, planting takes less effort because these bulbs are not intended to last for more than one season. Plant them about two inches deep instead of the normal depth of six inches from the base. Even with this shallow depth, the bulbs still have room for root development and strong flowers.

Planting and removal at this depth is easier as there is less digging. For those who like to have garden beds with spring, summer and fall color, treating bulbs as annuals makes this switch simple.

If you want to keep your bulbs and still have some summer color, plant your bulbs at the normal recommended depth, leaving some additional space between them to interplant with annuals. Be careful not to dig into the bulbs when planting the seasonal annuals.

Lastly, if you want the bulbs to rebloom each year, do not remove the foliage until it yellows naturally. This means leave it alone. Don’t tie, twist or braid the foliage as this reduces the plant’s ability to make energy and develop a flower for next year. By the time the bulb dies back, your flowers are set for next year.

Happy planting and soon spring will arrive at your garden awash in color.

Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to garden.help@jocogov.org.

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