October 15, 2018
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If you want bright spring flowers, plant them now

Brian Swartz | BDN
Brian Swartz | BDN
Wet snow covers daffodils growing alongside the house at 12 Beacon St., Brewer in this 2012 file photo.

Every spring, eager would-be gardeners come into Plants Unlimited in Rockport and ask to be pointed to the beautiful crocuses, daffodils and tulips they see blooming in other people’s gardens.

Hammon Buck, the owner of the garden center and nursery hates giving them the bad news: They waited too long to think about putting in bulbs for the early spring flowers. Months too long, in fact.

“You have to plan ahead,” he said this week. “You’re planting them now for spring color.”

That means if you want to see early-season flowers emerge from the chilly ground as the winter snows melt, October is the time to do the work to make that happen. This time of year, bulbs — or plants in their dormant stage — can be found in lots of places, from dedicated nurseries to big box stores. Buck encourages folks to seek out bigger bulbs for larger, more beautiful blooms and said that most of the independent garden centers sell top-sized bulbs, whereas most of the chain stores sell smaller bulbs.

“The bigger the bulbs, the better the results,” he said.

Daffodils are among the most popular bulb to plant in Maine, he said, in part because the deer do not eat them, which is not the case with tulips.

“The drawback with tulips is that the deer love them,” he said.

Brian Swartz | BDN
Brian Swartz | BDN
Two varieties of daffodills bloom at Fort Point Lighthouse in Stockton Springs in this May 4, 2013, file photo.

Once you have your bulbs, it’s time to find a good place to plant them. According to Buck, almost all bulbs like well-drained, fairly loose soil and do not want to be planted in heavy clay soil. He also suggests finding a place that isn’t too out of the way.

“Plant them near your doorstep,” he said. “Take advantage of those early blooming things and put them in a spot where you enjoy them.”

One trick to having a natural-looking display of flowers is to take the bulbs, throw them up in the air, and plant them where they land. Buck also suggests making sure you have enough bulbs on hand. It doesn’t look quite right to plant just a few bulbs in a rigidly spaced line, he said.

“For a wonderful bulb display, you’re going to have to mass them,” he said.

Now that you have the bulbs and a place to plant them, you’ll need to start digging holes that are roughly three times the size of the bulb and add some compost. The old-fashioned choice to supplement the soil around bulbs was bone meal, but nowadays gardeners are likely to prefer special bulb fertilizers and boosters.

“Bone meal is still a great fertilizer,” Buck said, adding that the downside is that animals are attracted to it. “Unfortunately the animals can dig it up.”

Rodent control can be an issue on some types of bulbs, which animals such as chipmunks, squirrels, moles and voles like to dig up.

“But that’s usually no problem with daffodils,” he said. “They are the easiest, by far.”

Once you put the bulb in the hole and tuck it in, give them some water and a little bit of mulch on top. Then you just wait for the months to pass and your flowers to start growing.

“That’s about it,” Buck said. “They’re pretty carefree. The labor’s the hardest part, like everything else in life, and the results are rewarding in the spring.”

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