The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • Nature's Advocate: Planting spring flowering bulbs in the fall

  • One of the fondest memories I have as a child is planting daffodil bulbs in the fall.
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  • One of the fondest memories I have as a child is planting daffodil bulbs in the fall.
    You see, my mother loved daffodils. She grew up on the outside edge of Sunset Hills, which back in 1963 was a rather rural section of St. Louis County. A local nursery which sold flowers in the City of St. Louis had its production fields along the banks of the Meramec River in Sunset Hills years ago, but left the area in the 1950s when a flood destroyed its operation.
    What was left was a multitude of flowering bulbs in about an acre patch of field, which a local farmer during the 1960s left undisturbed to bloom profusely each spring.
    So as the story goes, my mother would pick bushel baskets full of daffodil flowers for her grade school teachers at Rott schoolhouse each spring from this patch of paradise virtually in her back yard at the time.
    Why did I go through the trouble of telling this story in this week's Nature's Advocate article, you may ask? Because daffodil and grape hyacinth bulbs and crocus corms grow beautifully in our Missouri climate and now is the perfect time of year to plant them for a unforgettable display of color next spring.
    The daffodil (Narcissus) is absolutely one of the easiest and beautiful spring flowering bulbs to grow in Missouri.
    I prefer the classic bold yellow trumpet hybrids such as the "Dutch Master" daffodil, but there is a multitude of varieties to choose from in shades of pink-red, pure white, yellow-orange and even green.
    Hardy bulbs like daffodils require a chilling period to induce flowering in the spring and are typically planted from October until mid- to late-November in Missouri.
    Depending on daffodil variety and the intensity of our winter, they may bloom as early as late February and the first of March, but varieties may even extend into late April.
    Hardy bulbs are planted at different soil depths depending on the size of the bulb, but typically they are planted at a depth of around two to three times the height of the bulb, with daffodils being planted the deepest at 7-8 inches.
    As with most garden perennials, bulbs prefer well drained soil and it is recommended to amend the top 10 inches of heavy soils with compost to increase drainage on a garden site or plant the bulbs in a raised bed garden.
    Although the growing situations may not be ideal and bloom production may not be maximized, I have seen daffodils persist and bloom in difficult Ozark soil sites which receive plenty of sunlight.
    Dave Trinklien, our University of Missouri Extension state horticulture specialist, recommends mixing into the soil at the time of planting a complete fertilizer with a slightly higher phosphorus and potassium content, "NPK (Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) ratio of 1:3:3"
    Page 2 of 2 - Like our woodland spring ephemeral wildflowers (spring blooming early to diminish), hardy bulbs are planted in light open shade of deciduous trees which allow enough light into the canopy in early spring to allow the bulbs to store up enough food reserves for the following season.
    Bulbs also do well in full sun conditions and in the fall allowing the deciduous leaf debris to stay on the garden over the winter season will help protect the shoots as they begin to break the soil's surface in January or February.
    Just keep in mind when choosing a spot to plant daffodils in particular, that their vegetative foliage must not be cut too quickly in late spring, which can diminish bulb size and bloom production.
    Therefore, a spot which is in the back of a garden bed, or a more naturalized woodland which does not need to be formal or planted in annual summer flowers, is the best location to plant bulbs, since their foliage can get ratty and distract from the overall appearance of the garden in late spring.
    When the leaves of the bulbs brown and easily break when pulled, they can be removed.
    Daffodils, crocuses and grape hyacinths are great additions to any open deciduous woodland garden site, and if given the right spot, can thrive and multiply for years to come.
    For more information on planting and care of hardy bulbs see the University of Missouri Extension guide #G6610 at: http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G6610.
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