GARDENING: It’s time for bulbs!

By Sara Moran, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Horticulture Agent for Midland and Ector Counties

Bulbs are cool; let’s start with that, so you know I love them. Bulbs can add a splash of beauty to your indoor or outdoor areas. Bulbs are underground storage structures that contain the plant’s energy and nutrients needed for growth.

The anatomy of bulbs consists of the tunic, which is the outermost layer of the bulb, and it is a protective layer against any external damage. The basal plate is the bottom of the bulb, where the roots will emerge. The roots will absorb water and nutrients from the soil. Scale leaves, located below the tunic, store nutrients and energy. Shoot apical meristem, where the new growth will originate, contains the embryonic tissues that produce leaves, stems, and flowers. Within the shoot apical meristem is a dormant bud, which will develop into a new shoot or a flower stalk in the case of flowering bulbs.

Also, knowing the bulb’s life cycle will help us understand when to plant them to increase our chances of success. The life cycle of a bulb involves periods of dormancy and active growth. During the growing season, the bulb uses stored energy from the scale leaves to produce foliage and flowers. After flowering, the plant may go through a period of dormancy, during which the foliage dies back. The bulb remains dormant until the next growing season when it can sprout new growth from the stored energy and nutrients.

Then, if you want some spring color, fall is the time to plant bulbs! But what can you grow? My experience involves tulips, crocus, and daffodils.

  • Tulips (Tulipa spp.) are one of the most iconic spring-blooming bulbs. They come in many colors and varieties. They are one of the most popular choices for many gardeners. I have planted them on both sides of a walking entrance. The flower stalk was not tall; the blooms grew very close to the soil- almost at the ground level. But I got flowers.
  • Crocuses (Crocus spp.) are among the earliest spring bloomers and often pop up while snow’s still on the ground. They come in various colors. I planted about 20 bulbs, and only five emerged. I loved them for their delicate purple color. It was my first time growing them, so I won’t give up and will try them again this fall. Tips are welcome!
  • Daffodils (Narcissus spp.) are known for their bright yellow or white flowers with trumpet-shaped centers. I have also seen orange blooms. Daffodils are hardy and deer resistant. Daffodils are my birth month flower- March! Another great reason to want them in my garden. In my front yard, daffodils grow exposed to the elements- I am talking about winds (southwest winds). Daffodils emerged nicely, with healthy leaves, tall flower stalks, and bright yellow blooms. Then, the southwest winds. I could hear spooky music in the background while watching my daffodils dancing with the wind (am I being dramatic? Probably!). Okay, on the positive side, they bloomed and were gorgeous.

I had no pests or diseases on any of the bulbs I planted. A big plus!

If you want to give bulbs a chance, choose your bulbs from a reputable source. Avoid bulbs that show any sign of damage, abnormal growth, rot, mold, or soft and mushy bulbs. Healthy bulbs should feel firm. If you need to store the bulbs, keep them in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated area.

Once you pick your spring bulbs, which we will plant in the fall, it is time to select the location. Most bulbs prefer well-drained soil with good sunlight. In our area, a place where the plants can get some protection from wind might also be appropriate. Strong winds can break the leaves or flower stalk at the base when this vegetative tissue emerges.

Dig the holes to a recommended depth (around 4 inches). Loosen the soil and mix some compost. Then, place the bulbs with the pointed end up and the roots down. How far apart to plant? Follow the instructions provided by the package. Adequate space ensures the bulbs have enough room to grow and avoid competition for water and nutrients.

Water the bulbs thoroughly to settle the soil and provide moisture for the bulbs to establish roots. Keep the soil consistently moist but avoid waterlogging during the growing season. Add a layer of mulch; this will protect the bulb from extreme temperature fluctuations and conserve soil moisture.

Now wait, be patient, monitor the planted area, check the soil, and provide moisture when needed. Spring is around the corner, and I hope your bulbs succeed!

Also, if you have any experience (positive or not-so-positive) about growing bulbs in Midland and Ector County, please share!

If you have questions or want more information, contact your Texas A&M County Extension Office in Midland (432-686-4700) and Ector (432-498-4071) counties. You can also send an email to [email protected].