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Grape hyacinth

Grape hyacinth in spring

October is the time to plant bulbs for a spring floral display. Here's the most up-to-date research on planting these spring beauties:

Myth: Spring bulbs require added nutrients, particularly phosphorous, at time of planting to promote good root growth and greater number of flowers. Traditionally, gardeners will add bulb fertilizers and organic bone meal in the planting hole.

Truth: According to Washington State University, the plant roots' relationship with mycorrhizal fungi may be more efficient in extracting phosphorous from the soil than adding bone meal. Mycorrhizal fungi are naturally occurring soil fungi that are believed to have a symbiotic relationship with plants. The addition of the bone meal actually prevents the organic acid from exuding at root tips, a condition that occurs in a lower phosphorous environment, preventing mycorrhizal from penetrating the roots. Mycorrhizal are adept in taking up phosphorous. Most soils have sufficient phosphorous for plant growth.

Myth: Spring flowering bulbs will not grow in shade.

Truth: Grape hyacinth, crocus, winter aconites, snowdrops, Siberian squill and bluebells can be grown under deciduous trees. Snowdrops and Siberian squill will grow in the shade of an evergreen.

Myth: Bulbs go into dormancy in late spring and do not wake up until early spring, after a chilling period.

Truth: Bulbs actually start growing roots in late summer or early fall to obtain nutrients and moisture to flower the following spring.

Truth: The best time to plant bulbs in Zone 5 is the month of October. If you plant too early, you will have bulbs that may become susceptible to Fusarium wilt. This can be a problem and reduce emergence. Symptoms include yellowing and/or browning of leaves beginning at tips; discoloration toward the base of the leaf, which will eventually wither and die; reduced bulb size, bulb decay, and brown, poorly developed root systems.

Myth: You cannot grow bulbs in containers.

Truth: Containers provide great drainage so you can layer bulbs, like daffodils, below crocus. Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and fritillaries can be planted in pots. Bigger pots are safer than small ones, because they take longer to freeze. You can bring pots inside if the temp drops below 28 degrees, but remember snow acts like an insulator. After bloom, let foliage ripen and plant in garden.

Myth: Tulip bulbs should be planted 6- to 8 inches below the surface.

Truth: According to Cornell, tulip bulbs only need to be “top planted. Cover bulb with two to four inches of soil; bulbs planted six inches deep had fewer flowers." This means you can plant more tulips as it will not be as much work.

The basics

• Bulbs require well-drained but moist soils after planting bulbs and while flowering;

• They like drier soils when dormant;

• Mulching keeps the bulbs from alternately freezing and thawing in the winter;

• Large bulbs are usually better than small ones;

• Plant bulbs close together (three or five inches apart) if you want thick masses of flowers;

• After the flowers fade, cut them off so that seeds will not form.

For more information on planting spring bulbs, check out the University of Illinois Extension “Bulbs and More” website (http://extension.illinois.edu/bulbs/).

Kelly Allsup is the University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator in Livingston, McLean and Woodford counties.

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