Spring flowering bulbs need fall or winter planting. If you can dig the soil, you can plant cold hardy bulb such as tulips, daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths and some lilies. The term "bulbs" covers many plants with specialized roots or stem bases. Only some of the plants commonly called bulbs are true bulbs. True bulbs include tulips, daffodils, grape hyacinths and lilies. Corms (crocuses or gladioluses), tubers (cyclamens or begonias), tuberous roots (dahlias) and rhizomes (irises) are often also called bulbs.
Bulbs can give years of spring color with very little work. First, choose healthy bulbs that are firm and large, rather than dry, withered, moldy or spongy. Larger bulbs produce more flowers.
The site should meet the light requirements for the plant. Tulip, daffodil, crocus and hyacinth do well in full sun. Successful blooming year after year depends on good soil drainage and soil preparation. If your soil drains poorly, plant on a slope or in raised beds. Bulbs grow best when their planting area is amended prior to planting with organic matter and a complete fertilizer according to label directions to a depth of 12 inches. Alternatively, you can dig each hole individually; add a small amount of organic matter and fertilizer and then place the bulb in the prepared hole. The second method doesn't provide an optimum medium for root growth, but works well enough to interplant bulbs among other plants.
The rule of thumb for planting depth is two to three times as deep as the bulb is tall. In sandy soils, bulbs can be planted a little deeper and in clay soils a bit more shallow. In general, grape hyacinths should be planted about two inches deep, crocuses three inches deep, daffodils or tulips six to eight inches deep and regular hyacinths six inches deep. The pointed side of the bulb faces up and the root plate faces down. Press the bulbs into the soil and then cover with soil. Tamp the soil down gently and water.
If ground squirrels and other rodents plague your yard, beware that they will dig up and eat most bulbs. They seem to really enjoy tulips, but usually ignore daffodils. To keep tulips coming back year after year, you may have to put each one in a little cage underground to keep the critters away. With a little work this fall, your spring can be colorful!
JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 887-2252.