Beautiful Blooms for Christmas
By, Dianne Venetta
December means Christmas trees for many, indoor herb planting and gifts galore, but for gardeners, deep in the alcoves of our minds, we’re “thinking spring.” Sure, days are growing shorter and colder as Jack Frost whips his way through town, but there’s an old saying… “So long as you can get your shovel into the ground, you can plant your bulbs.”
We’re talking spring flowers here, and like most beauties, they need plenty of time to prepare for their big day—12 to 14 weeks of temperatures below 45°F, to be exact. Without it, the bulbs won’t be able to break dormancy and bloom. What is dormancy?
It’s a plant’s response to adverse growing conditions, such as weather changes (read: winter cold!) or as a reaction to stress, say intense heat or drought. Plants don't die during this period. Instead, think of them as resting, conserving their energy until conditions improve. Once a plant is dormant, foliage growth may be restrained, but the roots will continue to grow and thrive. This is why fall and early winter (in warmer regions) can be a great time for planting those flower bulbs.
Not only do spring flowers make for beautiful landscaping, they are great gifts. Hint, hint. I once received a set of daffodil bulbs for Christmas and thought, “What on earth am I going to do with these?” I grow fruits and vegetables, not flowers. But the gift opened my eyes to the possibilities, and that’s all a gal needs to start counting the days until spring! And with so many gorgeous flowers to choose from, your hardest job will be to limit your choices.
For the colder regions, December will be too late to get planting, but that doesn’t mean you can’t mark your calendars for next year! When you do plant, plant as deeply as possible, even a few inches deeper than recommended, for the added insulation. Once the ground freezes hard, mulch the bulbs with a few inches of leaves, straw, or some evergreen boughs. It might take longer for the shoots to surface from the extra depth, but eventually they will.
Bulbs will work just about anywhere in your garden, so long as they have well-drained soil and a good chunk of sun. Be sure to avoid areas where water sits. Ducks like to sit in water. Bulbs do not. Bulbs should be planted as soon as the ground is cool, when evening temperatures average between 40° to 50° F, or at least six weeks before the ground freezes. Until then, keep track of your label—bulbs tend to look similar and you won’t be able to tell the red from blue, pink from yellow!
Plant the pointy end up. That's about all you need to know when it comes time to dig. It's pretty easy to spot on most bulbs, but even if you miss this step, the flower bulb can still find its way up. Flowers are smart like that. As a rule, bulbs require a planting depth equal to three times the height of the bulb, spaced at a distance of twice the width of the bulb.
Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, iris, allium and crown imperials are your larger bulbs, going about 6-8” deep. Smaller species tulips, small allium, crocuses and the like will be around 2-3” deep. And while you have that shovel in your hand, think about scooping out a trench instead of individual holes. Less tedious, if you ask me. Drop, stagger, and toss!
My personal favorite is the tulip. Imperial, elegant, this gal is the Queen blossom in my eyes. I also love iris. The deep blue calms the soul, the delicate petals a thing of awe to behold. Daffodils and hyacinth are long-time favorites. Then there’s crocus, allium—the list goes on. Like I said, the hardest part will be choosing which bulbs to plant.
Don’t worry about fertilizer the first year. Bulbs are kind of like “self-contained food pantries.” They won't need anything to flower the first year, but if you have perennial bulbs (yearly returns), then consider composted manure, worm poop, or how about a scoop from your compost pile? They all work!
If you do fertilize your brand-new bulb, don’t put the fertilizer in the planting hole. It can burn the roots. Instead, take caution to thoroughly mix it with surrounding soil. Next, push the bulb into the soil and cover, patting loose soil into place, removing any air pockets. Water deeply.
When considering where to plant, think of your ultimate goal. Do you like the monochrome look? Perhaps a dazzling palette of varying colors? Another design consideration: depending on which types of flowers you like, think about planting short ones in front of taller ones giving you a layered look. (Label should reflect mature flower height.) This technique works if they bloom around the same time. But what if they bloom at different times? Put short, early bloomers in back, tall, late bloomers out front. Then, when the shorter blooms wilt and die back, the tall blooms will hide them. Genius!
Just think of it, in one brisk afternoon you can have months of beautiful color come spring. Your winter-stricken landscape will thank you, your neighbors will thank you—but hurry—these beauties are popular, and supply goes quick. Which means it’s time to get out and get shopping!
Meet the Author
Award-winning author D.S. Venetta lives in Central Florida with her husband and two children. It was volunteering in her children’s Montessori school garden that gave rise to her new series Wild Tales & Garden Thrills, stories bursting with the real-life experiences of young gardeners. Children see the world from a totally different perspective than adults and Venetta knows their adventures will surely inspire a new generation to get outside, and get digging.
When not crafting her next novel, D.S. Venetta hosts a garden blog, Bloominthyme.com, where she demonstrates just how easy and fun gardening can be! Additionally, Venetta has been featured for her gardening advice on various websites, including GalTime, EarthEats, eHow, IdealHomeGarden, Huffington Post, and the cookbook Earth Eats: Real Food Green Living. Passionate about organic gardening, her dream is to see a garden in every school, library, and community.
Connect with Dianne Online
You can read Dianne's "The Gardening Life" column the 2nd Wednesday each month here at Pandora's Box Gazette.