The Beauty of Flowering Bulbs

A vegetable garden can be a bonus to the budget, but flowering bulbs can feed your soul.

| September/October 1981

There's nothing quite so welcome after a long, bleak winter as small crocuses pushing up through the newly thawed earth, bright yellow daffodils defying late frosts, or proud tulips bursting forth throwing living rainbows across the sleeping landscape. And all of these delightful harbingers of spring (plus many more) can reward any gardener who plants those remarkable storehouses of beauty: flowering bulbs.  

These thick, modified stems or roots (the group actually comprises corms, tubers, tuberous roots, and rhizomes as well as true bulbs) allow their plants to be food self-sufficient while the feeder roots have time to develop. Therefore, even no-luck gardeners who try growing bulbs can to produce a beautiful flower crop at least for one season. However, if you take the time to cultivate bulbs with care, you'll be delighted at the wonderful ease with which you can make your yard continue to burst forth in ever-multiplying blooms, year after year.

Judicious Choices

Folks who want bulbs that can be planted with little work (and anticipated with little worry) should begin by growing hardy types, which can survive cold winters in the ground. This category includes some of our most beautiful flowers: narcissus (the family name for hundreds of daffodils and jonquils), tulip, crocus, allium, anemone, camassia, lily of the valley, grape hyacinth, snowdrop, iris, snowflake, a large number of lilies ...and many less-well-known blooms.

Hall-hardy bulbs—hyacinth, amaryllis, canna, cyclamen, and gladiolus, for example—will need to be covered with layers of mulch (the depth will depend upon the harshness of the winter) if they're to survive outdoors in a cold climate. And the tender (but very beautiful) types such as kaffir lily, cooperia, sparaxis, and heavily scented freesia may have to be taken up each year. (In mild climates, most bulbs can be treated as hardy or half-hardy can even especially tender varieties in areas without frosts.)

Whatever flowers you choose, buy the plumpest and firmest bulbs you can find, and purchase them as soon as possible after they become available. Then open the boxes and bags immediately and put the plantables in a dry place where air can circulate among them freely. Should there be a delay in getting your purchases in the ground, it's wise to spread them on (labeled) trays or paper. By doing so, you can usually prevent the formation of premature shoots and roots that might be injured when the bulbs are planted.

In fact, careful handling should always be the rule when dealing with these sleeping beauties, because a small plant embryo already exists inside each true bulb, and any cuts and bruises can invite infection and disease.

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