Is It Too Late To Plant Spring-Flowering Bulbs?
You probably had the best of intentions when you bought a wagon full of spring-flowering bulbs last fall. You wanted to witness rows and rows of lovely, brave daffodils popping their heads out of the frozen soil, stretching for the warmth of the sun on a cold March morning. In the busy-ness of the holiday season, however, you forgot all about those bulb packs and left them in the garage and now you wonder if it is really too late to plant spring-flowering bulbs? Even if you can't dig a hole in your frozen soil, there are other ways to enjoy the bulbs this spring.
Planting Late Outside
The best thing to do with your bulbs right now is to try and plant them. If the soil is not yet frozen, you won't have any problem getting them in the ground. Brush away any snow on the ground and, if the ground is frozen only on the surface, break through the frozen crust and plant as you normally would, according to package instructions. Don't beat yourself up over planting late, as it has an advantage: often the soil will refreeze, keeping the bulbs safe from squirrels and other critters.
If you would rather not risk breaking your shovel hacking through frozen soil, try this easy, no-dig method that many gardeners have found effective First, remove any snow or debris (dried leaves, dead grass clippings, etc.), set the bulbs in place on the ground, then cover them with garden soil. You want a depth of about three times the height of the bulb. The warm, fresh soil will help thaw the ground below, allowing the bulbs to root. This method also works well when there is heavy root competition, as in a wooded area.
Planting in Pots
Many areas of the South have experienced unusually long, deep freezes this winter. If your ground is frozen so deeply that a shovel can't even make a dent in it, then it really is too late to plant your bulbs outside. If this is the case, consider planting your bulbs in pots.
Choose your pots wisely. When the water in soil freezes, it expands, easily breaking your favorite terra cotta and ceramic pots. Instead, plant bulbs in flexible plastic pots. When the weather warms and the bulbs start to bloom, slip these nondescript plastic pots into a more decorative pot before setting them outside. Look for a potting soil that is fast-draining and relatively porous, with a good percentage of perlite, vermiculite, or bark. Avoid mixes that contain a lot of peat moss because they often stay too wet for bulbs.
Bulbs in pots are typically planted close together, but not touching, and their tips are just below the soil surface. The idea is to leave as much room as possible underneath for proper root growth.
In winter, potted bulbs will get much colder than those planted in the ground. While all bulbs need a certain number of hours below 48° to complete the chemical changes that allow their flower stems to emerge and grow to a normal height (this is called "chill time"), too much cold can be detrimental. Store your potted bulbs through the winter in a place that stays colder than 48° F most of the time but that doesn't get as severely cold as it is outside.
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Winters in the South are anything but consistent: freezing temperatures one day, and then warm and sunny the next. Potted bulbs can be damaged by the freeze-thaw cycle, when soil temperatures fluctuate dramatically from day to night. To avoid this, keep your containers in a cool spot, out of direct sunlight, until it's spring and leaves have emerged an inch or more above ground.