Plant spring-flowering bulbs in the fall

Plant spring-flowering bulbs in the fall

by Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

All over the Midwest, landscapers and homeowners are planting spring-blooming bulbs in their garden. "Bulbs are a growing part of our revenue stream," says Loriena Harrington, owner of the highly rated Beautiful Blooms Landscape & Design in Wauwatosa, Wis. "Bulbs give us early spring color. The winters here are dreadful and we can't wait for spring."

Although the high time for these blooming plants is spring, the bulbs must be planted in fall. The most popular are tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, says Harrington, who uses an instructional brochure to teach clients about their bulbs.

Harrington recommends homeowners seek a professional to help with the plantings as landscapers have tools, such as augers, that can make fast work of getting the bulbs in the ground. "It's not cost prohibitive," she says. "Landscapers also have access to high quality, extra large bulbs direct from the Netherlands or through distributors. The better the bulb, the better the performance."

However, the landscaping industry doesn't promote bulb planting like it does perennials, trees, shrubs and annuals, says Mike Basile, owner of highly rated Basile Landscaping and Lawncare LLC, in Kirkwood, Mo. Basile likes to plant bulbs in areas with ground covers or amid perennials to help camouflage their foliage. He'll also return to a client's home to remove tulips after they're done blooming rather than leaving them in the ground.

Bret Gerking of highly rated rated Especially Gardens in Whitestown, Ind., also designs spaces for spring bulbs at his clients' request. The 2010 Super Service Award winner likes planting the bulbs, especially tulips, in entryways to the property where they'll please passersby and homeowners alike. In his designs, he plants the spring bulbs in swaths where annuals will be planted in summer.

Other landscapers find homeowners like to plant bulbs themselves. "About 80 percent of my clients do it themselves," says T. J. Houghtalen, managing partner of highly rated Green Vista Landscaping in Noblesville, Ind.

Many properties don't have the space for bulbs or the homeowners find the leaves that persist for several weeks after the blooms fade a deterrent. "You can't really do much with it until it ripens - turns yellow or brown," Houghtalen says. The ripening process replenishes the underground bulb with the nutrients it needs to produce next spring's blooms.

If deer are a problem, landscapers agree that it's best to avoid tulips, which are lollipops for the four-legged creatures. Animals generally do not bother daffodils because they're poisonous. Daffodils also tend to have better staying power, returning year after year. Tulips, with their tendency to diminish over a year or two, are more like an annual or short-lived perennial in the landscape.

Sometimes known as the Hoosier Gardener, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp lives in Indianapolis. A freelance writer, her work appears in many publications, including The American Gardener and Garden Gate. Sharp also speaks about gardening throughout the Midwest and is a director of the Garden Writers Association.

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