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Naturalizing Bulbs for Spring Gardens
Posted on : August 28, 2018

We all like surprises, especially those botanical wonders that pop up in our garden during a Texas winter. These deciduous beauties emerge as the soil temperature cools off producing strap-like leaves in January and February. We have forgotten what we planted last year and this winter appearance has us excited and curious as to what this beautiful flower will become. Deciduous is another name for losing leaves or dying down and returning when the conditions are right.

Naturalize means to establish “into the wild” a flourishing non-native bulb or plant. Texas climate is very extreme and planting bulbs that adapt to our climate is surprising, rewarding and exciting. One way these bulbs naturalize is they are winter growers, spring bloomers and summer dormant, just like many Texans! Another way to have bulbs return is to create well-drained soils with aggregate/rock so the bulbs do not sit in water logged clay soils or rot from summer rains when dormant.

Spring flowering bulbs bloom in March through May and must be planted in the October through December so the bulb can root in, grow foliage and flower when conditions are right. The most popular spring flowering bulbs include Narcissus/Daffodil, Leucojum, Ipheon, Dutch Iris, and Scillas. After blooming they die down to the ground and sleep for the summer, re-emerging in early winter.

Narcissus and Daffodil are closely related, Narcissus normally produces a cluster of flowers on one stem and daffodils have one flower per stem. These bulbs are poisonous so you don’t have to worry about wild animals eating them. Some of the popular Narcissus planted: Paperwhites, ‘Grand Primo’, ‘Erlicheer’ and the sweetly fragrant Campernelles.
One of the most frequently asked questions about bulbs are: “How deep do I plant the spring flowering bulbs?” My general response is two times the depth of the bulb, so if the bulb is 1” from the nose to the root, plant 2” deep into the soil and this does not include the mulch layer. Daffodils and Narcissus are larger bulbs and normally 1.5 to 2” from nose to root so they get planted 3-4” deep. Always make sure your soil is well drained (work expanded shale deep into the heaviest part of the clay) or the dormant bulbs will rot during a wet summer.

Another frequently asked question is: “When should I plant my bulbs?” Gardeners share bulbs with family and friends regularly, so the answer is when you get them. Bulbs get divided after they bloom so they are going dormant for the summer, I recommend using a plastic or clay pot with soil on bottom of the pot, place bulbs in container and cover with soil. Place in an area that gets watered and hold until the bulbs sprout, you will have a better idea of what the foliage looks like and where to plant in the garden.

Perennial Bulbs (keep foliage year round) like Crinum, Amaryllis, and Agapanthus should be planted in the garden right away as they keep foliage year round and do not disappear. These bulbs have long necks and should be planted with the necks halfway out of the soil.

Planting of “bulbs” in the garden should be done in mass groupings, do not line them up in a straight line or make a border as it is too hard to keep them from being “shoveled” when they are sleeping. I like to place them in circles and create triangle spacing within the circle. If planting bulbs 2” deep, space 2” apart, 3” deep, 3” apart, etc. Bulbs reproduce better in full sun but can take a little filtered light. Remember our winters are cloudy with little sun so find the sunniest spot for your treasures to naturalize and planting underneath a tree that loses leaves during winter makes a great little rock garden for your special bulbs.

Want to learn more about naturalizing bulbs? Attend the Bulbs and Buddies class at the Arbor Gate, October 6, 2018 with Chris Weisinger, The Bulb Hunter, as the featured speaker.

Written by Linda Gay

Linda received her Associates Degree in Horticulture from Trident Technical College in Charleston, SC. She moved to Houston the summer of 1979 and worked in the commercial green industry until 1985. October 1985 Linda stared at Mercer Arboretum and Botanic Gardens and retired in May 2011. She was the director for 11 years. Linda is first and foremost a gardener, constantly manipulating soils and putting new plants in the garden, always learning and growing. She has killed plants every which way you can and this experience has made me a plant expert. After 6 months of retirement Linda was very fortuitous and landed in the coolest gardener’s paradise, The Arbor Gate in Tomball, Texas.

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