GIMME SHELTER- Beat the freeze! Planting now yields color later

Jay Eltzroth
Eltzroth & Thompson Greenhouses
Q: Is it too late to plant my bulbs for spring? When is the best time to plant them? And can I grow bulbs indoors that will bloom this winter?  

A: No, it's not too late. As long as you get certain bulbs in the ground before the first ground freeze, you'll have some fabulous blooms come early spring. In our area, that means you can still plant bulbs in November, and even as late as early December. 

Generally, there are two kinds of bulbs: fall bulbs and spring bulbs. Fall bulbs actually need a four- to eight-week period of cold before they flower, whereas spring bulbs won't survive the winter if you plant them now. Fall bulbs would include tulips, daffodils, and the most common fall bulb, crocus. Spring bulbs might include dalhia and canna. 

If the ground freezes before you've had a chance to plant your fall bulbs, you can try "forcing." It's a common method that nurseries use to have blooming flowers for their customers in early spring. Forcing involves potting your bulbs and simulating the winter hibernation period by putting them in your freezer for six weeks. Some bulbs respond better to forcing than others, so make sure you read the tags on the bulbs you buy. In general, however, we recommend you let Mother Nature's freezer do the work for you by planting them in the ground before the first ground freeze.  

Amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus are two bulbs to consider if you're looking for winter flowers. These bulbs do not need a period of cold to bloom. You can plant them inside and have fragrant blooms for Christmas! If you buy several bulbs, plant them at 14-day intervals to have blooms through the winter. Even a beginner will have success with these blooms. And you won't clog up your freezer!

As for planting your fall bulbs outside, get a bulb planter, pull up a six inch plug of earth, and place your bulb in the hole with its "eye" facing up. It's also a good idea to mix in some bone meal or bulb tone fertilizer with the soil. If you plant now, you'll have crocus blooms by mid-February and daffodils by mid-March.

Jay Eltzroth