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February 14th, 2012

A Procrastinator’s Guide to Planting Bulbs

I dragged my feet this fall and failed to plant my daffodils. Is there a problem planting them during the February warm spell?

blog-dougWhat do you have to lose? Plant them and hope for the best—but don’t delay any longer. If your soil is workable, plant the daffodil bulbs outdoors. If the ground is frozen, get a bag of potting soil and plant them in pots.

As you know, spring-flowering bulbs—daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, crocuses, and the like—are planted in fall so they have three or four months to establish root systems before blooming. Your daffodils will be getting a very late start at that, so if they bloom at all it will likely be later than normal. The key to their future success is their ability to produce sufficient leaves this spring to recharge their energy reserves—and you won’t know for sure if they’re able to do that until they begin growing. Whether they flower or not this spring, they will probably get back on a normal flowering schedule in subsequent years if they put up a good stand of foliage this first year. Daffodils are known to thrive for decades in their preferred growing conditions: a sunny exposure and soil that drains quickly.

Another variable to this situation is where you’ve been storing the bulbs. If they’ve been kept in a cool and humid spot, such as an unheated basement, and the bulbs still appear firm and not shriveled, they are more likely to overcome late planting than if they’ve been stored at room temperature. Good luck! And don’t feel bad; after all, who among us has not discovered an unplanted bag of bulbs in February?  —Doug Hall

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January 31st, 2012

When Bulbs Wake Up Too Early

We’re barely halfway through winter and already I see the tips of daffodils and hyacinths poking through the mulch. This weekend I even saw some crocuses in bloom. Do I need to do anything?

blog-dougDon’t underestimate the fortitude of bulbs that bloom in early spring. They’re used to nasty winter weather. As long as the flower buds stay safely belowground, the worst that can happen is the leaf tips will be singed. Daffodils with brown leaf tips may not be what you were hoping to see in spring, but the damage is superficial and won’t prevent the bulbs from flowering.

It’s not unusual for these tentative sprouts to appear long before the bulbs bloom. So long as the weather stays cold, the leaves grow no further. If you wish, you can add a layer of loose mulch to insulate the exposed shoots and protect them from winter burn.

But when warmer weather causes the flower buds to emerge—and especially once the buds show color or open—the potential for damage increases. Bulb flowers are more fragile than the leaves, more likely to be harmed by snow, wind, or just plain cold. Enjoy those crocuses while they last!  —Doug Hall

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