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Fall bulb planting time

Now is the time to get out the catalogs and make plans for adding color and interest to flower gardens. 

Story by Laura Lee Rose

The axiom is that spring blooming bulbs are planted in the fall. Fall is also a great time to plant woody shrubs and trees so that roots can better establish when temperatures are cooler and leaves are not losing as much water to transpiration.

Gardening involves a certain amount of math, especially multiplication and division. When certain plants outgrow their space in the border or bed (multiplication and addition), it is time to dig up the clump and divide. One of the great rewards of gardening is having more than you need and friends to share plants or parts of plants.

There are many sources for purchasing your bulbs, tubers and rhizomes — all of which are underground reproductive structures but different in morphology.  Although botanists classify bulbs, tubers and rhizomes as modified stems and not roots, they all consist of stored carbohydrates and they have the ability to reproduce a plant which is genetically similar to the mother. Where it gets tricky is eventually flowers are produced with male and/or female parts, pollination or cross-pollination occurs, and seeds are set (another multiplication strategy) for more plants.

Planting is pretty easy. Site and location will vary with species but most bulbs will enjoy soil that is well-drained with 20-30 percent composted bark or compost worked in. A pH of 6-7 is best and a soil test will give the fertilizer and/or lime recommendation. Fertilizer can be applied at planting, and side dressing in early spring may increase plant vigor, length of blooming and bloom size.

Bulb size is an important factor in bloom size and most catalogues are going to sell premium bulbs for a premium price. If you choose to naturalize an area, planting medium-sized bulbs in a mass is visually a very effective design element. Choose bulbs that are firm and don’t have spots or mold on them. Wait until the soil temperature is below 60 degrees; by planting tubers, bulbs and rhizomes at the right temperature and depth, roots will have a chance to form and the chill requirement will be met. For Lowcountry gardeners this can be during the months of October to December. If you get bulbs and can’t plant them right away, you should refrigerate them for 6-8 weeks.

Whether using bulb favorites or unusual collections, you can create exciting flower gardens and interesting arrangements. Bulb catalogues have pictures that jump out of the page, not only with color but also showcasing fascinating plants. A real bonus is that the catalogues also make suggestions for combining plant colors and textures. Let the fun begin and get a few new bulbs to try and maybe swap later with friends!