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Last call for bulbs; effects of cold weather are here

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

We are already seeing the effects of early cold temperatures. Daffodils are blooming at the Brunswick Botanical Gardens and in my yard as well.

Plants become confused when temperatures fluctuate between warm and cold, especially at this time of year. It is nice to see the color but did you really want the bulbs to bloom this early? If you want to delay the flower set for bulbs, you may have to plant them in cooler spots in the landscape or perhaps plant them a little deeper next time.

Be careful. Do not plant them too deep. Adding mulch over the bulb planting area will moderate the temperatures and help keep them from blooming too early. The first time you plant the bulbs you should get the most flowers with the largest display of flowers.

The timing of that planting may also dictate when they bloom. If you have waited until December to plant your bulbs, you will have a beautiful display of blooms for late winter and early spring if the weather cooperates. Bulbs that were planted in September and October will start blooming any time now the chilling hour requirements have already been met.

There is not much you can do to stop the flower initiation once it has been triggered by warm temperatures. This commonly happens to bulbs that have been in the ground for more than one season, such is the case with the ones in my yard and here at the Botanical Garden. The best thing you can do is mulch the area where the bulbs are planted. This may help hold the soil temperature enough to delay shoot initiation.

There is still time to plant bulbs but do not delay. They will need to have some of the winter cold to help with the flowering. Fertilization improves the bulb’s performance. Newly planted bulbs will have improved quality and fertilization encourages the bulbs to perennialize; that is, flower for several years without replacing or dividing the bulbs.

Fertilizing at the time of planting is best. A slow release sulfur coated complete fertilizer should be incorporated into the root zone at planting. Apply one rounded tablespoon per square foot.

Another suggestion is to incorporate bone meal at planting since it does not readily move in the soil. Bone meal is an excellent source of phosphorus, which increases flower and root production in plants. Since phosphorus does not move that much in the soil, the best time to apply is at planting so you can thoroughly mix it into the soil and have it closer to the rooting area of the bulb.

It is best to have the phosphorus available just below and around the placement of the bulb. Phosphorus or bone meal applications near the soil surface will not provide much help for the roots coming out lower down from the base of the bulbs.

The recommended time for fertilizing bulbs is in the spring just as they begin to send up their flower stalks from beneath the ground and then again in the fall. One level tablespoon of 8-8-8 fertilizer per plant twice a year will ensure that you have the best flower display from your bulbs.

After bloom, remove the flower organs with scissors and let the foliage die back naturally to the ground. The area in the landscape where the bulbs bloomed will now be ready for other seasonal color from the planting of annual bedding plants or flowers.