, Port Arthur, Texas

October 8, 2012

Planting spring bulbs

Jane McBride
The Port Arthur News

— If you love tulips, daffodils and other narcissus, fall is the time to get them in the ground so you can enjoy their beautiful blooms in the spring.

Because we live in the South, where chilling hours are so short as to be almost non-existent, it’s important to make good choices of bulbs that suit our climate.

Tulips are a favorite of gardeners everywhere, but it’s too hot here for bulbs to last more than one season, so we treat them as annuals. Because they require many hours of chilling to stimulate spring blooms, it’s important to buy pre-chilled bulbs, or chill your own in the refrigerator for at least six weeks. Choosing tulips will add to your gardening budget each year, but many gardeners think it is money well spent.

If you want a lot more bang for your buck, I suggest narcissus. The genus narcissus includes dozens of species, hybrids, varieties and forms, but the most popular are jonquils, daffodils and paperwhites.

Jonquils have dark green, round leaves. They bloom early, offering clusters of small, fragrant yellow blooms. Paperwhites have clusters of white blooms with an extremely strong, sweet fragrance. Because they naturalize so well, you can expect an-ever increasing show each year.

Daffodils, perhaps the most popular, are a welcome sight after a colorless winter. To do well in Southeast Texas, choose varieties such as "Carlton," "Unsurpassable," "Fortune" "Ice Follies" “Tet-a-Tet”  “Texas Star” and “Campernelle.”

Plant your bulbs in full sun. They look their best in small clumps, rather than lined up neatly. To achieve a natural look, toss a handful and plant them where they land. They are especially lovely scattered beneath deciduous trees, which will allow them all the sun they need.

Plant in good, well-drained soil to which you’ve added a little compost. Toss a small amount of bone meal into the bottom of the hole, then cover with a good soil with added compost.

After they bloom in spring, be sure to wait until the foliage has turned brown and died back before mowing. The bulbs are busy storing nutrients and energy necessary to bloom again the following year.

One of my favorite websites to visit for information on all things bulbs is Southern Bulb Company. Owner and President Chris Wiesinger (Aggie ‘04) has built a career and a loyal following from years of saving bulbs once lost to most Southern gardeners.

As hardy as bulbs are, they can be really picky about climate. If you buy a bulb Chris says is right for your zone, like those listed above, you can be confident in your choice. Many of their bulbs are heirloom and very hard to find.

Be sure to check the variety of bulbs found locally at chain stores. They aren’t always the right choice for Southeast Texas.

I highly recommend Chris’ beautifully written and illustrated book, “Heirloom Bulbs for Today.”