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MASTER GARDENERS: Tulips can be tough to grow in Texas - Odessa American: People

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MASTER GARDENERS: Tulips can be tough to grow in Texas

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Posted: Sunday, October 16, 2016 6:30 am

I love bulbs. They are one of the easiest ways to garden, I believe. They are showy, most come back the next year, and they are care free. Tulips, I have found, don’t always come back.

I don’t know if it is the kind I buy, or if I do something wrong. When we lived in Ohio they would bloom again the next spring if the squirrels didn’t get them. So far here, squirrels haven’t been a problem, but there is always this year! Bulbs can provide years of enjoyment for very little time and money.

Planting bulbs does require some thinking ahead. Spring bulbs need to be planted in the fall. However, in our zone 8a, we can plant them as late as January, which I do. Since our ground rarely freezes deeply, spring bulbs can be planted later.

They do need to be chilled for 8 to 10 weeks in the refrigerator crisper. Just make sure you keep them away from fruits and vegetables as they give off ethylene gas that cause the bud inside the bulb to abort. (I keep mine in a second refrigerator in our garage where I do not keep any vegetables or fruits.)

If you plant them in October of November, they will be coming up in January or February, get caught in a freeze, and then they wilt and die. You don’t get your pretty burst of color come spring when this happens. You can also buy bulbs that are best adapted to warmer climates.

Bulbs are available everywhere in the fall, including garden centers, catalogues and the internet. The advantage to purchasing your bulbs locally is that you can pick them out individually. That fact is important as you want the largest, firmest bulbs.

Larger bulbs generally perform better and have a superior display. Look for firmness which indicates a healthy fresh bulb. Do not purchase bulbs that feel soft or mushy. They are well past their prime. The disadvantage of buying locally is that your selection may be limited. Online or catalogue ordering will give you the largest selection. Even if you preorder, bulb companies will ship to you at the ideal planting time in your area. This helps take the worry out of having to store them yourself. But, if you do order, plant as soon as possible after they arrive.

Generally, bulbs are planted at a depth about three (3) times as deep as the bulb. Most bulbs have an obvious pointed end — that goes up. The other end is wider and has tiny root hairs. When in doubt, plant them on their side, and nature will take care of the rest.

All bulbs prefer fertile, well-drained soil. Planting areas that are damp or have poor drainage will shorten the life and performance of the bulb. Amend the area you have chosen with compost. Incorporating some bone meal or bulb fertilizer at this time is also helpful and will contribute to the long term life of your bulbs. Look for sites that offer at least six hours of sun for best results. Locations under deciduous trees will often work, especially for early spring bulbs like crocus and some daffodil varieties. Bulbs can also be planted in containers. Treat those bulbs like any other. I have bulbs planted in several containers throughout my yard. This year I am going to plant bulbs in our tree stump that my husband dug out after we had to have our Maple tree taken down. I think they will really be pretty in there come spring

The tool for planting bulbs is your choice. There are handheld bulb planters for smaller beds to a shovel for digging larger areas. Bulbs look more natural when they appear grouped rather than in a straight line like little tin soldiers. In any case, plant in quantity. Bulbs are inexpensive and have more visual impact when you plant in larger groups. A two-inch layer of mulch will help retain moisture and keep the soil warmer a bit longer so their roots can get established faster. Finally, water in and maintain adequate moisture to ensure success.

After planting is complete, very little is required beyond that to have years of spring color. Once bulbs finish blooming, they can become a bit unsightly as the flowers fade and the foliage dies back. Don’t cut back the dead foliage too early. It is essential that the leaves remain on the plant until they turn completely yellow. From the time they flower until this time, the leaves are photosynthesizing. They provide the nutrients and energy the bulb needs for the next year. One way you can cut down the look of dead plants is to braid the leaves together. You can do this easily with daffodils and narcissus. When you braid them, they tend to fall to the ground, and they aren’t as easily seen. I have done this many times.

Lastly, an annual feeding of compost and or bone meal, rich in phosphorus, is important. This will help ensure long-lasting performance. Look for one made for bulbs. It will have a higher middle number in the analysis ratio on the package.

For little time and money, you can sit back and wait for the beautiful colors to bring in the spring season! Bulbs that you can choose from are tulips, daffodils, narcissus, grape hyacinths, large bulb hyacinths, crocus, Anemone, Dutch Iris and Lilies. I get excited just thinking about my spring bulbs!

For more information on this subject or any other, contact the AgriLife office in Ector County at 432-498-4071 or in Midland County at 432-686-4700.

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