We reap the benefits of last falls labor when the spring bulbs come into bloom. Even though they are still under a few feet of snow, the tulips know that it is time to come up and crocus bloom right through the snow. Daffodils, Galanthus (Snowdrops), Hyacinths and Lilies are other bulbs that we plant in the fall.
Bulbous plants store food that they can live on during periods of dormancy such as winter or drought. They are usually perennials that have a period of growth and flowering followed by a period of dormancy where they die back to the ground.
Bulbs often refer to plants that have underground fleshy storage structures. These structures include true bulbs (Tulips, Daffodils, Alliums and Lilies), corms (crocus), tubers (Dahlia), tuberous (Begonia) and rhizomes (Iris).
None of the flowers from bulbs last a very long time; a week or two is about average. However, there are many choices of types and varieties so that you can keep your garden in bloom over a long season and possibly from spring to fall. Tulips alone have early, mid and late season varieties that can bloom from April, through June. You just have to put up with the unattractive foliage until it ripens in order for the bulb to store food for next year. The best way to hide the foliage is to plant tulips among daylilies or other leafy perennials.
Crocus are the first to bloom followed by tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. Iris overlap and follow early spring bulbs. The storage structure of iris is a rhizome, which in our clay soil should sit just at ground level with the roots forming below. Bearded Iris have early and late varieties. Miniatures bloom first, followed by dwarfs, intermediates and then the tall German iris. In addition to the bearded varieties, there are Siberian and Spuria iris that extend the season. Bearded iris frequently need division, but wait at least six weeks after they bloom and September is an ideal time to do so.
Alliums are true bulbs that belong to the onion family. Their purple, pink or white blooms vary from egg size to large globes. Most Alliums bloom in early June although some varieties wait to flower in late summer.
Lilies are bulbs that can be planted in the fall or very early spring. These bulbs do not have the protective covering that tulips and daffodils have and are never truly dormant. Therefore, you should plant the bulbs as soon as you receive them in the fall or within 15 minutes after you dig and divide them. Refrigerate them if this is not possible. By planting Asiatic, Aurelian (trumpet) and Oriental lilies, you can have blooms in June, July and August. Care for your Easter lily until you can plant it outside in a sheltered spot. Plant it so that the bulb is about 6 inches deep. It may take until the second summer after planting to bloom again.
All of the above are considered hardy bulbs that can remain in the ground. Another group consisting of tender bulbs must be dug up and replanted each spring. Pot up Cannas, Dahlias, Tuberous Begonia and Caladiums indoors to give them an early start. Fill flats with a potting mixture. Set Begonia tubers with the hollow side up so that the top is just even with the soil surface. Bury Cannas with their eyes facing up so that half of the rhizome is above the soil surface. Plant Dahlia tubers in pots with the eye (next to the stem) one inch below the soil. Cover Caladium tubers one to two inches below the soil. Water them well and place them in a warm sunny window.
Plant Gladioli corms outside every two weeks from mid-May through June. This way you will extend their bloom through the summer. Either treat them as an annual or dig and store them next fall.
Enjoy bulbs even in fall if you plant Fall Crocus (Colchicum) and Surprise Lily (Lycoris) when they are available in June through August. They produce leaves in spring, die back and then surprise you with beautiful flowers in autumn. To get the very earliest blooms next spring pot up a container with spring bulbs and keep them in an extra refrigerator. What a treat!