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Garden Guide: Winter is almost here, now is the time to plant spring bulbs

In this week’s Garden Guide, Meteorologist Alex Calamia tells us why Autumn and early winter is the best time to plant spring flower bulbs.

Alex Calamia

Nov 29, 2023, 11:09 AM

Updated 233 days ago

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The last leaves haven’t even fallen from the trees, and yet we are already talking about spring. Specifically, spring bulbs. Everyone knows about daffodils, tulips, and crocus, but many gardeners don’t realize that these bulbs need to go in the ground before winter even starts.  

When plants spring bulbs: 

We are used to stores rushing through holidays and seasons, but it might come as a surprise to see spring bulbs among Christmas decorations at local stores. But this isn’t a case of rushing things along, September, October, and even November through December are a great time to purchase and plant spring bulbs.
Spring bulbs can be planted as early as September and really anytime throughout late autumn or early winter. As long as the ground isn’t frozen, it’s not too late to plant these plants for a great spring show. The bulbs are very tolerant of cold temperatures. It’s challenging to dig into frozen ground though, so it’s best to get these bulbs in the ground before consistent winter weather arrives.
Some garden centers sell tulips and daffodils in bloom during March and April. These plants are usually weaker than those that are started in Autumn from bulbs. They haven’t withstood the elements outside but can re-bloom next season if they are planted in the spring, right after their blooms finish up.
After blooming, spring bulbs can look pretty torn and ugly, but it’s important to leave them be. The leaves are helping fuel the plant up for new blooms next season.

Why do spring bulbs need to be planted in autumn?

Spring bulbs require a prolonged winter chill to trigger new leaves and blooms. This adaptation keeps the bulbs from sprouting prematurely. Spring bulbs are big and full of energy to burst out of the ground in spring, but they won’t wake up without getting a signal from Mother Nature. The process is called vernalization.
During vernalization, cold temperatures trigger biochemical changes within the plant, specifically in the part of the plant responsible for new growth and flowering (the meristematic tissues). The hormones that keep these inhibit flowering begin to break down during this process, releasing a spectacular show. In warm climates, tulips and daffodils won’t grow unless gardeners store them in a refrigerator for several weeks!  

How to keep the animals away

Nothing is more frustrating than watching the aftermath of a curious animal that digs up all of your hard work. Spring bulbs are actually not a preferred meal for most wildlife, but autumn is a desperate time for animals looking to store up for a long winter.
Gardeners with a lot of pressure from squirrels and raccoons can lay chicken wire underneath the mulch after planting spring bulbs to keep animals out. The wire will need to be removed when new growth emerges in the spring to give the leaves space to grow.
The easiest way to keep animals away from your precious bulbs is to plant them deep and cover them up with mulch. Squirrels usually dig in soil that looks disturbed because they’re looking for nuts and bulbs buried by other animals. Gardeners can use a thick layer of leaves or fresh mulch to keep animals from getting curious and it’ll also help regulate soil temperature and moisture. It’s a win-win!

To summarize

Spring bulbs like daffodils, tulips, and crocus need to be planted in autumn before winter starts. Planting them in autumn allows them to go through a winter chill, which triggers new leaves and blooms in spring. When they get the signal from Mother Nature that spring is on its way, they will be ready for a spectacular show.  


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