ASK THE GARDENERS. Questions & Answers

Q We bought some large-flowered daffodil bulbs about a month ago and have kept them in a cool spot, anticipating that we will be moved into our new home shortly. We have been told the bulbs would not bloom well because we are planting them so late. Is this true? Could we expect to get blooms the following year if we plant late? What would happen if we waited and planted very early in spring? How deep should we plant them? M.P.

Terre Haute, Ind.

While hardy bulbs are best planted in early fall so that they can make good root growth, it is better to plant hardy bulbs right up until the ground starts to freeze than try to keep them over.

Since you will be planting eight inches deep if your soil is sandy, or six inches deep in any other soil (be sure it is well drained), it will take a while for the frost to go down that far in most frost-prone areas. (If you have snow cover, it may never go to that depth.) Also, folks in any cold area can cover the planting area with a few inches of leaves or a layer of evergreen boughs to delay frost penetration. Bulbs will form roots until the frost reaches them, and then resume root growth as frost leaves the soil in spring.

In areas where mild winters prevail, many garden stores sell precooled bulbs. These have been kept in cold storage for a period long enough to force changes inside the bulbs, which will induce them to bloom after planting, without prolonged cold weather.

Q We have an extra refrigerator in our basement which comes in handy during the summer. A friend told me jokingly that I could start some potted tulip bulbs in it and give them to friends for Christmas. His uncle had been a florist and started bulbs in a cooler, but my friend couldn't recall the details. Could you help?


Boise, Idaho

You have a dandy place to start bulbs. Some folks we know put potted bulbs in paper bags and start them in their regular refrigerator. We put four bulbs in each four-inch pot, or five to six bulbs in a five-inch pot. Fill pots partway with loose soil (half can be peat-lite mix). Then set bulbs in soil so tips are even with rim. Cover so just the tips of the bulbs stick out.

When placing the bulbs, be sure the flat side of each faces the rim of the pot. The first leaf develops on the flat side. This makes a pleasing appearance, because it covers the stem.

We water the soil thoroughly with a dilute solution of balanced liquid plant food, then set them in the refrigerator. They must remain where it is 35 to 45 degrees F. for about 12 weeks. Then you can take them out to force blooms in late winter, but it is too late to get them to bloom for Christmas. Professionals are more fussy about fertilizer and precise timing, but for your own enjoyment, the above is sufficient.

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