Is it too early to start thinking of spring, when fall has just now gotten a toe-hold? Not really. The credo of every gardener is “plan ahead”. Planning ahead for spring bulbs is vital.
Spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils must be planted in the fall or early winter in order to bloom in the spring because they require a long period of cool temperatures to spark the biochemical process that causes them to flower. In the fall, it’s important to get them into the ground before the ground freezes. They need time to develop strong roots.
A couple of years ago, I had a bag of bulbs that somehow got misplaced when I was doing the other outdoor planting. It was February when I found them. Since they were still plump and firm, I was able to get some of them in the ground and the others I kept indoors and forced. Bulbs are tough and contain an entire storehouse of everything they need to grow and bloom. For forcing, I found a nice, quite tall hurricane candle holder at a great price. With a couple inches of natural aquarium gravel, some water and the bulbs firmly placed, in a few weeks we had lovely blooms in a rather unique setting.
As I said before, spring-flowering bulbs are tough and they can generally take whatever nature dishes out. If you’ve got bulbs sprouting in your beds, and the weather turns, don’t dash outside to cover your early sprouts. A short freeze won’t do lasting damage to young bulb shoots and buds, though it could burn any open blossoms. Many flowers, like snowdrops and crocuses, are supposed to come up in very early spring. They have been provided with the means to survive. An unseasonably warm spell may cause some bulbs to bloom earlier than anticipated.
Here in the Rogue Valley, where most of us grow in Zone 7 or Zone 8, we get a pretty standard and traditional bloom period in the spring. Some bulbs can be planted out without any pre-chilling whatsoever. These include Amaryllis, many varieties in the Allium family, wood hyacinth, all narcissi and daffodils, Dutch iris, snow crocus, snowdrop, anemone and ranunculus.
Those that require pre-chilling include tulips, hyacinth, traditional crocus and most of the other spring-flowering favorites.
If you’re planting cold-hardy bulbs that require pre-chilling and you want to do that by artificial means, you can achieve this by six to eight weeks in the refrigerator. Make sure – and this is REALLY IMPORTANT – that you do not store apples or other fruits alongside your bulbs. Ripening fruit gives off ethylene gas, which will kill the flower bud inside the bulb before the bulb ever even sprouts.
Don’t worry if you bought bulbs early in the season when they first hit the shelves. You can store them for several months before planting them. Keep them chilled; up to sixteen weeks if need be – until it’s time to plant them. In a perfect world, bulbs should be in the ground in the Rogue Valley in December or early January, if the ground is not frozen. Plant tulips six to eight inches deep, water them well and protect them with a layer of mulch to retain moisture and protect them from too much heat, in the event of a warm spell. When bulbs do not receive sufficient time in cold storage, they bloom too close to the ground on very short stems.