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How Late Can You Plant Bulbs
October 15, 2011

We've had a lot of questions about planting time from customers all across Canada. Since winter arrives differently for many areas, the answers vary too. We'd all like a nice, sunny day and an open, well-drained sandy loam for our planting day but for many of us (I garden with clay soil, for example) this isn't the case. Not everything in the garden goes according to plan. This is particularly true for those of us in the trade who are busy shipping bulbs when we ought to be planting. We push the envelope, often planting in stiffening soil with snow flakes fluttering down.

Ironically, some lucky gardeners in snowy areas of the north can successfully grow plants that the books tell us shouldn't work. My friends Patrick Lima and John Scanlan, the esteemed garden writer and photographer who garden at Larkwhistle garden (zone 4), can winter plants that I in balmy zone 6 can't. They get a load of snow before the ground freezes and this snow cover persists, so their soil only freezes to a depth of an inch or two. My garden freezes up later but my snow cover is dicey and the soil can freeze down over a foot. I'll discuss a few examples and then I'd better get my own bulbs planted.

Some bulbs need time to grow some roots before the ground freezes, while others do not. Narcissus, for example, need to grow roots before freeze up. This root growth starts when the bulbs come in contact with the moist soil in your garden. If you have unplanted bulbs and winter is coming early you can try the following.

1) Prepare the planting area by digging down and loosening the soil.
2) Soak your Narcissus bulbs overnight in room temperature water.
3) Plant them and cover the spot with a mulch of leaves or straw.

Some other bulbs either don't care if the soil is frozen or start their growth in the late winter when the soil starts to warm up. Tulips, Allium and Lilies are classic examples. In the Prairies winter can arrive any time after Labour Day. Prairie gardeners are a stalwart bunch and have taught me much about dealing with their fickle weather. They often prepare the site for their bulbs early, digging the holes before their bulbs arrive and keeping the soil indoors. When their lilies or tulips arrive they just plant them, cover with the retained soil and water them in.

Another option is to pot up your bulbs and force them for flowering indoors. I covered this in a previous newsletter but for those of you who missed it here is a link. Other bulb care tips can be found here as well.

Take heart, my gardening friends. Winter may be coming, but at Gardenimport we're busy working on Spring and have some FABULOUS new bulbs and plants in store.


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