Wednesday, December 2, 2020
Dec. 2, 2020

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Gardening with Allen: Still time to plant hardy bulbs


I had success with dahlias and begonias that I planted from started bulbs purchased in pots. Can I dig those bulbs and replant them next spring? Is it too late to plant tulips and daffodils?

It can get cold enough to freeze begonia bulbs in the soil, especially if they are planted in containers. It can also get cold enough to freeze dahlias in the soil, but they will survive most winters. Most serious dahlia hobbyists dig bulbs just to be sure. Other bulbs like ranunculus, calla lilies, canna lilies and gladiolus will not freeze and can be left in the ground.

I have a tub in which I planted ranunculus bulbs in the fall several years ago. They overwinter and bloom in the early spring. After they bloom, I plant annuals such as petunias and marigolds between the ranunculus plants. They produce color for the rest of the summer.

If stems do not readily detach from the begonia and dahlia bulbs when you dig them, leave a small piece attached. Let them dry in an area protected from freezing until the stems naturally fall off. I prefer to brush off loose soil rather than washing them. Moisture can cause bulbs to rot.

Bulbs should be dry, but not so dry that they shrivel. I store bulbs in dry vermiculite. Mesh onion bags, burlap or even pantyhose reduce evaporation yet allow some moisture to escape. Bulbs should be placed in a cool, dry area that will not freeze, such as a garage.

You may want to plant your bulbs inside in pots in late February or March. Bulbs should be planted so that they are covered with a half-inch of soil. This leaves most of the soil for root development. They do not need light for several weeks until they sprout above the soil. Then they should be placed near a sunny window. As soon as daytime temperatures reach 50 degrees, I place them outside during the daytime and bring them back in at night. The stronger outdoor light and cooler temperatures keep plants short and compact.

You can also plant bulbs directly outside in April. However, they will not bloom until several weeks later than if started inside.

It is not too late to plant hardy bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and other bulbs that bloom in the spring. Summer-blooming lilies can also be planted now.

You can also plant bulbs in tubs or other containers that were used for annual flowers that have quit blooming. After the bulbs have bloomed you can plant annuals again between the bulb stems. Leave the bulbs in the containers to rebloom next year.