Spring Bulbs & Seeds - What You Need To Know

Spring is Around the Corner - It's Almost Bulb & Seed Time!

For the flower gardener, spring-planted bulbs which bloom in summer and fall are absolutely next level. These amazing plants bring it all to the table, award winning giant blooms, unique styles, forms, and memorable enchanting scents.

These are not your everyday annuals that grow, bloom, and die all in one season bringing color and interest to the garden. Nor are they the steadfast, trustworthy perennials that show up year after year, with their timely blooms, forms, and functions.

But after bulbs finish flowering, there’s the ugly aftermath. Faded, collapsed petals; wilted and yellowing leaves and stems. What’s a gardener to do?

Let’s start by taking a closer look at the anatomy of bulbs to learn how to properly care for them and determine an appropriate time and technique for cleaning up that mess while still supporting the health and vitality of the bulb.

Bulbs are plants, and because of that, they have a life cycle. Admittedly, it happens to be the lifecycle of an angiosperm, but still, it’s a life and life is all about reproduction, regardless of the genus or species. So after the plant flowers, the biological job of the plant is to create seeds. But gardeners don’t want them to do that because the process of creating seeds steals energy from the bulb and it becomes weaker for next year. So as gardeners, we want to preserve the bulb health to gain a good second year out of a bulb.

Here are three key tips for keeping your plants and bulbs happy and healthy:

1. Identify the type of bulb

Bulbs are an astonishingly large category of flowers, so it’s important to know what you have so you’ll know how to care for it, and how deep to plant it. Two of the most popular bulbs are tulips and narcissi (daffodils are a type of narcissi), but there are many others, such as crocus, hyacinths, camassia, scilla, lily, and fritillaria, to name a few.

2. Know when and what to deadhead

Deadheading is the act of removing the flower parts after the plant has finished blooming. Deadheading is key for stopping the bulb from going to seed, but the trick is to remove only the flower parts and keep all the leaves intact. This is because you want the foliage to continue the work of photosynthesis in order to store energy and food in that bulb underground.

How you deadhead can vary from bulb to bulb. With all the narcissi (daffodil) types, you can simply snap the head off the stalk with your thumbnail or scissors and leave the stalk intact, or you can snip the stalk off at the base leaving all the foliage untouched.

Tulips, however, have a different anatomy than narcissi and daffodils. When you deadhead a tulip, you want to leave the big leaves at the bottom of the flower stalk (ideally at least two). Again, this lets the plant keep up the work of food storage.

This deadheading is useful for all the big bulbs that will include the hyacinths, camassias, and lilies. For the tiny bulbs with more dainty anatomy, structure, and size such as scilla, crocus, snowdrops, and chionodoxa, you can just let them simply fade. Deadheading would just take you far too long, and the foliage of these bulbs fades fast.

3. Fertilize

If you want to naturalize bulbs – that is, encourage them to come back -- you want to make sure they have enough nutrients to help them complete the job. That means fertilizing bulbs four to six weeks before they flower. It’s important to note that not all bulbs naturalize well. Most of the narcissi/daffodils do, but tulips generally do not. A general rule of thumb is while you may get four to five years out of your daffodils, you’ll be lucky to get a strong two from your tulips.

As I mentioned at the beginning, nothing screams “springtime!” quite like a big, beautiful, colorful bouquet of flowers popping out of the post-winter ground like magic. The key is to plant your bulbs in tight groups to achieve that effect. I call it bouquet planting. You might think that spreading them out and planting them one by one will help fill in a larger space, but the effect is not nearly as visually dramatic.

Yes, bulbs are a lot of work, but the payback is tremendous. Having the patience to do the work in the fall for delayed gratification in the spring is well worth it. The kick-start of color you’ll receive after a dreary winter is absolutely uplifting.

5 Spring Planting Bulbs For Summer & Fall Beauty

1. Oriental Lilies (Lilium orientalis)

Stand Out Feature: Gorgeous giant flowers with enchanting fragrance in mid to late summer.

Special Care: Many hardy options can be left in the ground and grown as perennials. Oriental lilies are incredibly spectacular in containers as well.

2. Dahlia (Dahlia)

Stand Out Feature: Huge variety for the dahlia obsessed with 18 styles of flowers and over 60,000 named varieties in a span of colors that make the rainbow jealous.

3. Gladiolus (Gladiolus)

Stand Out Feature: Want more color? Gladioli will not disappoint! Each flower spike blooms from the bottom up with color lasting up to two months. Gorgeous in the garden and beautiful in bouquets.

Special Care: Gladioli prefer well-drained, slightly acidic soil in full sun. Plant out in the garden in soil that has reached at least 55° F (13° C).

4. Elephant Ear (Colocasia esculenta)

Stand Out Feature: Massive, up to 2 feet long, heart-shaped leaves provide a tropical flare and gorgeous backdrop in the backyard.

Special Care: Moisture loving, this plant thrives in partial shade in rich humus soil high in organic matter. A frost tender perennial hardy in zones 8 and above.

5. Curcuma (Curcuma)

Stand Out Feature: Stunning, exciting flowers on this tropical, heat loving plant.

Special Care: Moisture loving plant that performs in warm temperatures in the garden or in containers.

Springtime Seeding - Quick Tips for March

The last expected frost date here in Ontario is usually around the first week or two of May. So, plants that need to be started 6-8 weeks before then, like tomatoes and peppers, should get started now.

The key thing you may want to take into consideration is how fast seeds sell out across the GTA (especially in the last two years) so even though you may not be ready to plant some seeds yet, it's important to have them first.

You can get peppers started indoors early in March, just keep them near a bright window while they’re germinating to keep them warm.

With tomatoes, most of them want to get started in late to mid-March, but make sure you stick to their variety’s schedule – starting them too early can leave you with a plant that’s as leggy and pale as a seasick supermodel. They don’t need light to germinate, just get them to a window once they start to sprout!

Toward the end of March, into early April, start nasturtium seeds indoors to get them ready for early-spring transplanting. Nasturtiums produce more blooms when transplanted in sunny areas with poor soil, so those areas that aren’t fertile enough for your veggies are perfect for these (edible!) flowers.

Stop by Harper's Garden Centre today for all your Seeds and Spring Bulb needs!