Bulb Basics

It seems odd to be thinking of spring color already. However, fall is the time to plant bulbs that will provide cheerful flowers come spring.

To many gardeners, a bulb is any plant with a fleshy underground structure. However, there are true bulbs, corms, rhizomes, tubers and tuberous roots.

True bulbs include tulips, daffodils, and lilies. Crocus, freesia, and gladiolus are corms. Iris and lily-of-the-valley are examples of rhizomes. Tubers are plants such as caladium, and tuberous roots include dahlia, anemone and ranunculus.

Plant a true bulb with the root-forming end facing down into the soil. Plant corms with their wide side face down, and the buds or eyes facing up. Place rhizomes horizontally, close to the surface. Plant tubers with their eyes facing up, and plant tuberous roots on their sides.

It is important to buy high-quality "bulbs" (any plant with a fleshy underground structure). Bigger is better because they produce bigger blooms the first season. Smaller bulbs are cost-effective for adding color to a large area. Do not buy bulbs that are soggy, soft, moldy or bruised.

Plant bulbs immediately, or store them in a cool (60 F Ð 65 F), dry place. Keep the bulbs in a ventilated container rather than plastic to avoid rot. Rhizomes, tubers, and tuberous roots dry out more easily than bulbs or corms and should be stored in unmoistened perlite, vermiculite or peat. Bulbs can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks if kept separate from fruits and vegetables that give off ethylene gas, a ripening agent. Because many of the bulbs are poisonous, keep them out of the reach of children.

Bulbs need well-drained soil. Mix in organic matter to make it one-half of the soil's content to a depth of 8 inches to 12 inches. Spring-flowering bulbs need six hours to 10 hours of sunlight. True bulbs are usually planted three times as deep as the height of the bulb from tip to base. You can plant them by digging each hole individually, or by digging up a wide area or trench and laying the bulbs over the entire area. Fertilize them with bulb food, and then cover them with soil. Mulch the bed with a 1-inch to 4-inch layer of mulch or compost after tamping down the soil. Water the area thoroughly. There should be enough moisture through winter for the bulbs, but if it is dry for a month, water the area as long as water will soak in.

For gardening information, contact me, 887-2252 or skellyj@unce.unr.edu, or your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Check out many useful horticulture publications at www.unce.unr.edu. "Ask a Master Gardener" by e-mailing mastergardeners@unce.unr.edu.

n JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension Educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.


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