By REBECCA NORTON RYAN
Member of Warren Garden Club and Penn State Master Gardener
After one of our wonderful western Pennsylvania winters our souls are pretty winter weary and nothing satisfies the winter weary soul like a stand of daffodils. 20 daffodils won't do it, 200 is better but 2,000 will give you hope for the future.
The time to prepare for that display of spring flowers is now. The bulb catalogues are arriving daily at our house and it is not too late to order. Bulbs can also be purchased at our garden centers. Although September is the generally accepted time to plant spring bulbs, they can be planted successfully through out the fall season. However 60 degrees and sunshine in October is more comfortable for the gardener than 30 degrees and snow in November.
There is a certain amount of planning that goes into a successful spring garden. The best gardens start with a sketch showing where your existing bulbs are located. With this sketch you can clearly see what bulbs you have and where more bulbs are needed. Things to consider are height of the flowers, color and bloom time. It is not unusual to have a late winter snow or ice storm blow in from the north and crush early blooming daffodils. In my zone 4 garden I always plant late blooming daffodils. In downtown Warren early and mid season bulbs should do just fine.
After planning your spring display, it is time to plant. Because the bulbs green foliage should be allowed to have time to die and wither naturally, making food for the bulbs next season, always plant the bulbs near perennials like daylilies and peonies. As these perennials grow and spread their flowers and foliage they will cover up the unattractive dying spring bulb foliage.
The best place to store your spring bulbs is in the ground, not the garage or the trunk of your car. If you must hold them for a few days, label carefully and spread them on dry newspapers so there is lots of air circulation.
In general plant the bulbs in groups of 3, 5 or 7. To get the best display plant the bulbs at a depth three times the height of the bulb. Dig a hole, level the ground and place a little bulb fertilizer (bone meal) in the bottom of the hole. Lightly mix the fertilizer with soil then place the bulbs in the hole, pointy side up. I like to plant my bulbs in a circle with one bulb in the middle. Cover the bulbs with soil and then water well. Cover the planted bulbs with 2 to 3 inches of mulch. Mulch does not keep the bulbs warm through the winter. It does keep the temperature of the soil consistent which should discourage the bulbs from breaking through the ground too early. As you plant your new bulbs this is a good time to give the existing bulb garden a sprinkle of bone meal or bulb fertilizer.
In the spring dead head your bulbs when they finish blooming. If these are not cut the bulb will put its energy into trying to make another bulb and will not be able to store enough nutrients for next spring. Also watch for bulbs that do not bloom. These bulbs may be planted too deeply or have become crowded and need to be dug, separated and replanted. Mark them with a stake so you can find them later.
Gardening season starts when I find the first flower of spring, the snowdrop. These are dependable little flowers that bloom in the snow. They quickly naturalize, spread and reward the gardener with a beautiful display. Giant snowdrops are hardy to our zone and are a wonderful cultivar.
I love tulips but so do the deer who in the spring of year are very hungry. There are sprays that will make the tulip taste very bad however the deer are usually so desperate they will eat them anyway. Tulips are considered an annual in this garden zone. They will bloom well the first year but then year after year they have smaller blooms and are less reliable.
The little muscari remind me of miniature blue hyacinths. New cultivars have larger flowers and variegated colors in blue and white. In late summer the foliage looks like grass so mark your muscari carefully or you will weed your display. Muscari make beautiful little individual bouquets on the Easter breakfast table.
There are hundreds of daffodil cultivars. You can find early, mid and late season bloomers. Daffs come in all shades of yellow, white and even peach and pink. They range in size from giant daffodils to the miniature tete-a-tetes. Daffodils are hardy in our zone 4/5 so they freely reproduce and the deer will not eat them.
At this time of year spring bulbs are a promise for the future. Just when our shrubs, perennials and roses are getting ready for rest and rejuvenation we need to purchase our spring bulbs and plan and plant for spring.