Christmas has come and gone and again we look forward to a new year. Since the winter solstice the daylight hours are getting longer. By the first of January we will have gained 3 minutes. I like to think about the flowers that spring time brings. Enjoying them year after year it seems that they are as anxious as I am.
You planted bulbs in October, or maybe you wish you had, and now you wait. What do those bulbs look like now and what are they doing while winter rages above and we wait?
The garden looks bare while we wait, but the bulbs below are doing their thing. There are several stages in the life cycle of a Tulip (pretty much the same for Daffodils and other fall bulbs):
- Planting: at the right depth Tulips are as happy as they can be. They're not picky about the soil, although they will perform better if the soil is well balanced. They like to be about 6 inches below the surface, but they are very hardy. I have seen them spend the entire winter above ground and then set root and grow in the spring, but struggle to bloom. I have seen bulbs that were planted shallow send a missile-like root downward to deposit a new bulb at the proper depth.
- Root growth: planted in October, the bulbs immediately set root and actually begin to send up leaves
- Chilling: the bulbs need to chill for at least 8 weeks at a temperature below 45 degrees. While they are chilling they are also growing. They will send leaves up to the frost line
- Leaf and flower: when the frost goes out of the ground in early spring leaves push up to take a peak. During early warm spells leaves will break the surface to catch the sunlight. I have seen them do this in January; they simply slow down when the weather turns cold again. Late March through April and May the flower heads burst. The bulb sustains the flower while new bulbs begin to form.
- Bulb production: 4 to 6 new bulbs form and grow, drawing nutrients through the roots and leaves. For good bulb growth it is important to allow the leaves to remain and die naturally. It is also a good idea to remove the spent flower head so that plant's strength goes to the new bulbs rather than a seed pod.
- Harvest: Dig and separate the bulbs after the plant has died. It is not necessary to lift Tulips, Daffodils and other bulbs every year, but remember that where you planted one, there will be five. The next year the five may have become 25. You can see how quickly the bulbs can over crowd themselves; overcrowded, the blooms become smaller and smaller and may stop blooming altogether. I like to let my Tulips bloom twice and then dig them.
- Storage: Tulips and most bulbs can be stored from May to October in a cool dry location. A place in the shade that is ventilated and protected from rain and sprinklers works well. In October they are ready to start the cycle all over again for another spring-time show.