Didn’t get your bulbs planted? – Indiana Yard and Garden – Purdue Consumer Horticulture

Didn’t get your bulbs planted?

If you didn’t get your spring-flowering bulbs planted, you’re not alone. Many gardeners found that autumn rains delayed their bulb planting, only to find a cold snap as the rains let up.

The reason for planting bulbs in the fall is twofold. Bulbs require a period of chilling to initiate flowers. For most spring-flowering bulbs, 10 to 13 weeks of temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit are needed. Bulbs also need to put down good root growth before they sprout foliage and flowers. The roots will then be able to supply the tops with water and nutrients from the soil.

Waiting until spring to plant the bulbs will not satisfy these requirements, so spring-planted bulbs will likely not bloom this year. Saving the bulbs for planting next fall is not a wise choice either. Proper storage conditions to keep the bulbs cool and dry are often hard to find in the home environment. Bulbs usually begin to soften and rot or may actually sprout before they get planted. Even under ideal storage conditions, the bulbs will lose some of their food reserves through the natural plant process of respiration.

If you haven’t planted your bulbs yet, the next best choice is to get them in the ground as soon as the soil is thawed enough to dig, so that some chilling will take place. Soil temperatures must be above 40 F for root formation. Apply a mulch after planting to prevent bulbs from being heaved out of the soil due to alternate freezing and thawing. The bulbs likely won’t bloom this spring, but they may bloom later in the summer, out of their normal sequence, or they may just wait until next year to bloom at the normal time.

The other alternative is to force the bulbs into bloom indoors. Remember that the bulbs will need to be chilled for as long as 13 weeks to initiate flowers. Plant the bulbs in pots of soil with the tips of the bulbs just above the soil. Moisten and store in a cold, 40-degree location, such as a refrigerator. After the chilling period, bring the pots into a cool environment, about 65 F to 70 F. Plants should be in bloom in seven to 14 days.

Some gardeners have had success with planting forced bulbs outdoors after blooms have faded. The key is to keep the foliage as healthy as possible with high light, moderate fertilizer and water. Even if the bulbs don’t make a comeback, at least you will have had some enjoyment from them this year.

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