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Fall into Spring by planting blooming bulbs

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Summer was lovely, but fleeting, and now it is officially fall. Autumn can be a wonderful time of year, even though darkness comes so quickly to shorten the days. It is a great time to enjoy the crisp, clear air at whatever you enjoy -- football games, a long walk or even fall garden chores.

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Now is the time to plant spring blooming bulbs. If you haven't already ordered them, they are plentiful at plant nurseries and home improvement stores.

Brighten up your spring garden with daffodils. They will come back year after year and rabbits or deer do not bother them. Daffodil blooms usually last 2 or 3 weeks depending on the temperature, with hot weather shortening the bloom time. You can extend the bloom time by planting early, mid and late blooming varieties, which should be indicated on the labeling. Daffodils are divided into 12 different types with differing combinations of the trumpet or cup (corona), the petals (perianth) and the number of blooms on a stem. Some, such as the jonquil types are very fragrant.

When you purchase daffodils select the largest bulbs - at least 5 inches around. Make sure that they are healthy looking with no soft spots, bruises or mold. The best time to plant them is right around the time of the average first frost date. Try to get them planted as soon as possible as they require a long period before freeze up to develop roots.

Most daffodils thrive in full sun, but they also do well under deciduous trees. The daffodils will get plenty of sunshine as they are up and blooming before the trees leaf out. The only thing that daffodils will not tolerate is poor drainage, which leads to rot.

Plant daffodil bulbs 3 to 4 inches apart with the base of the bulb about 6 inches deep. In clay soil, plant more shallow than in sandy soil, but when they share a bed with other plants, especially annuals, make sure to plant deep enough so as not to disturb them when working the soil. If you are adding to an established bed, you may use a bulb planter or narrow spade to make single holes. If you are planting in a new area, you can dig up a clump-sized spot and place several at once. It is a good idea to use some kind of permanent marker for their locations since the foliage eventually fades away.

Daffodils do not require much fertilizer, but you may spread a low nitrogen product such as 5-10-12 when you plant and each fall. Bone meal is not necessary in our soil. Give them a good drink because they need moisture to form roots. Adding a cover of mulch is a good idea to keep the ground temperature even and help contain soil moisture.

Since the foliage must remain until it is completely yellow (and it lasts a long time), it is wise to plant daffodils among plants that will mask the ripening leaves. Daffodil foliage can almost disappear into daylily foliage. Hostas come up later than daffodils and their huge leaves easily hide the daffodil foliage.

You may wish to plant other companion plants that bloom at the same time. Pink bleeding heart, sky-blue Virginia bluebells and emerging green fern shoots combine with yellow daffodils in my garden.

Once you have the daffodils planted, you may concentrate on your other bulbs. Crocus and alliums should be planted soon. I highly recommend alliums as they bloom after the other spring bulbs and make a long-lasting statement in your garden. Plant crocus for the earliest blooms. Tulips can be planted as late as you can get them into the soil. In fact, if the soil is lightly frozen you may still plant them according to a method in 'Gardening in the Dakotas' by Melinda Myers. Use a shovel to break through the frost and outline a planting area. Slide the shovel under one edge and lift off the frozen soil in one slab. Plant the bulbs at the right depth, water them and replace the lid.

I often hear people say that their bulbs did not come up or they were short-lived. There could be more than one reason for failure. Planting where there is not enough sunlight or removing the foliage while it is still green prevents the bulbs from producing food for the next year through photosynthesis. If you plant where water puddles after a heavy rain or if you interplant them with flowers that need a lot of moisture they are likely to rot. Don't expect too much from bulbs as they peter out after a few years unless they are in ideal conditions. Once they start to decline don't expect them to get better next year. Dig them and keep only the largest bulbs or just replace them with new bulbs.

Breitling is a longtime West Fargo resident and avid gardener always in search of new ideas.

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