Celebrate the last bit of color in bloom

Keeping flowers of some kind blooming all season long is one of the challenges gardeners face.

Believe it or not, now is the time to look around and take note of the last ones standing — look for the final bursts of color and pollen of autumn — as well as time to plan ahead and plant bulbs for spring.

The end of the season is prime time to celebrate the last hurrah while ferreting away some surprises for spring. And as you peruse the plants that are still providing pops of color around the valley, you could decide to incorporate them in your yard for next year’s grand finale.

When the cosmos drop their petals and their spiky, star-like seed heads drop, it’s time to think about what your yard will look like after a long, cold winter. I know it’s hard to imagine now, but it’s good to think ahead.

We’ve had a warm fall, which has extended the deadline for planting bulbs for some people (like me) who forgot about it earlier. Ideally, you want to get bulbs in the ground at least a few weeks before a really hard freeze, to allow them to get established a bit before winter.

I like to choose a spot for bulbs that will have something else emerging after the bulbs have done their thing — either a perennial I have planted close by or a place where I plant seeds. That way, you never have a completely bare spot in the garden and once the tulips or daffodils are finished, you can look forward to a second act of flowers.

I also try not to plant bulbs in areas that are easily warmed by their surroundings. I used to have some tulips planted by a sidewalk that radiated heat, and those tulips emerged way too early — it happened one warm January — and were ruined. Keep this in mind if you want to plant bulbs on the south side of your house or near a driveway.

Colorado State University Extension recommends planting bulbs four times as deep as the height of the bulbs themselves.

So if your bulb is an inch tall from pointed tip to root end, you would plant it 4 inches deep in the ground, with the pointed end facing the sky. Bulbs vary in size, so this is something you’ll have to assess individually — a grape hyacinth bulb is roughly the size of a pearl onion, while a tulip bulb can be the size of a golf ball.

When selecting bulbs, keep in mind that the size of the bulb correlates to the size of the bloom. So if you want big flowers, choose big bulbs.

I like to use a few trowels full of compost with each planting area for bulbs. It keeps the soil loose, helping the roots to have a place to expand, and also helps retain soil moisture as well as provide some nutrients.

It’s good to consider the effect you’re after with planting bulbs. Keep in mind that most of the blooms don’t last long, and that they are more impressive when planted en masse. Having one tulip or one narcissus poking out of the ground all by itself can look pretty pathetic.

CSU also recommends covering the area you planted with 3 inches of mulch after the ground freezes, to protect the bulbs from a freeze-thaw cycle that can damage them.

Though many irrigation systems have been winterized by now, it’s also important to water the bulbs thoroughly before it freezes, to give them a head start and help them establish some roots before temperatures drop.

Plan on watering the bulb bed a few times by hand before winter sets in.

Erin McIntyre is an advanced master gardener and journalist who hosts “Diggin’ the Garden,” the second Wednesday of every month at noon on KAFM 88.1. Email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with story ideas or feedback.


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