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Plant Bulbs in Fall for Brilliant Color Next Spring!

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© Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co.
Want tons of brilliant color in your garden next spring, before many flower seeds have even been planted? Fall-planted bulbs, like tulips, narcissus and hyacinth will give you that, with so little effort! And many types will multiply from one year to the next, bursting forth in an ever-increasing blaze of glory every spring.
 
Nothing in the garden could be easier than planting fall bulbs. Simply tuck them into well-prepared garden soil after the weather has cooled, and before the ground freezes in winter. Soil for fall bulbs should be finely worked, with some compost and maybe some bone-meal worked in. Plant large bulbs like tulips about 6-8 inches deep; smaller ones, like crocus need about 3 inches. Remember to get the pointed end up, and the root end down, and you're set! But consider adding an inch or so of mulch to deter early spring weeds and prevent the bulbs from heaving out of the ground during the intense freeze-thaw cycles of late autumn.
 
The following spring, the bulbs give rise to strap-shaped leaves which often appear long before the last snow has vanished. Several weeks later, in early to mid spring, depending upon the variety, the flower buds emerge. The stems elongate and the buds grow larger until they pop open.
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After you've had several weeks to enjoy the show, the spent flowers begin to fade. It's best to pinch them off at this point. But don't interfere with the leaves too much. The plants need them to "recharge" the bulbs for next year. (Strong bulbs make more and better blooms, multiply more quickly, and are just generally healthier plants.)
 
Each type of fall-planted bulb has something unique to offer your garden: crocus are the earliest to bloom, sometimes pushing right up through snow! Daffodils or narcissus come later, with their intricate flowers and evocative spring fragrance. And hyacinth, though not as long-lived as some, light up the late spring garden with pastel or jewel-toned flowers and the most heavenly scent!
 
But tulips are the centerpiece of many a spring flower bed! The flowers range from small to huge, and the colors from plain to just plain extravagant! Originating in the middle East, tulips have been cultivated and enjoyed for centuries. It's not known just when or how they found their way into northern and western Europe, but by the middle of the 16th century, they were being grown and described in a number of locations.
 
The original species and naturally-hybridized types tended to be of small stature and delicate flower form, like our star-shaped golden Florentine tulip. The brilliant, exotic flowers created a sensation, and the period of "tulipomania" began. Fantastic prices were paid for new varieties, and fortunes were lost and made, particularly in the Netherlands (which is still the center of the world's tulip industry, although the bulbs are produced elsewhere as well.) 
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A catalyst for this tulipomania was the "broken tulip," so called because the normally solid-colored petals were fantastically streaked and striped, which made them all the rarer. For centuries, the cause was misunderstood, with some unknown environmental factor being suspected. Eventually the true cause was discovered: a virus was invading the plants and causing pigment to be deposited differently within the petals. In some cases, the virus leads to a gradual deterioration in the plant, but the old cultivars tend to be very vigorous and seldom suffer any ill-effects from this most welcome plant "disease." Our Insulinde tulip is one such, being deep rich royal purple splashed in cream. 
 
Tulipomania subsided after a few years, as the varieties were propagated and became less rare. The tulip itself, however, has remained, and is beloved by gardeners around the globe. So for phenomenal color next spring, do a little advance planning: order fall bulbs early, while the selection is good, plant them properly in mid to late autumn, then sit back and enjoy the show next spring!
 

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