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By Dan Gill LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
The next few weeks are an important time for planting tulips, hyacinths and other bulbs that have been previously stored in your refrigerator. (Won’t it be great to get the refrigerator space back?)
Tulips and hyacinths are refrigerated because our winters are not cold enough long enough to allow them to bloom properly without additional chilling. These bulbs should be refrigerated at least six to eight weeks prior to planting, which means you need to have had tulip and hyacinth bulbs in the refrigerator since mid- to late November or before.
It’s too late to purchase tulip and hyacinth bulbs from area nurseries and start refrigerating them now. Although businesses often put these bulbs on sale at reduced prices in late December and January, if the bulbs have not been previously refrigerated, there is little chance they will bloom properly.
We generally find the best results happen when pre-chilled tulip and hyacinth bulbs are planted into the garden in late December or early January. For one thing, the soil may stay relatively warm until late December. Planting these pre-chilled bulbs in to a soil that is still too warm can cancel the chilling process and lead to the bulbs blooming poorly.
Also, bulbs planted earlier bloom earlier – as early as February – and the weather is so unsettled at that time that the flowers are more likely to be ruined by freezes and winter storms. Tulips and hyacinths planted in the next few weeks generally bloom in March and early April when the weather is more likely to be favorable.
Remember that tulips and hyacinths, like most spring bulbs, look better when planted in masses or groups rather than single rows. Plantings are also generally more effective and dramatic when one or just a few colors are used. If several colors are used, they should be planted in small groups of individual colors within the larger planting.
If you purchased your bulbs prepackaged in mixed colors, you don’t have any choice of the colors, so you will have no way to group individual colors. Next year, you might choose to purchase bulbs in single-color packages instead.
Plant tulip and hyacinth bulbs in sunny to partly shaded areas that have good drainage. The bulbs should be planted into well-prepared beds that have been generously amended with organic matter and a light application of general-purpose fertilizer. Here in Louisiana, we generally do not plant spring flowering bulbs as deeply as is recommended for areas farther north. Tulips and hyacinths are planted about 5 inches deep, spaced about 3 or 4 inches apart.
Once planted, you may plant over the bulbs with flowering cool-season bedding plants such as alyssum, pansy or viola. Make sure the bulbs will grow taller than the bedding plants and that the colors of the bedding plants and bulbs will look good together when they are both in bloom.
Planting spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips and hyacinths in containers is a wonderful way to grow them. When grown in containers, these bulbs can be moved inside when they come into bloom. As delightful as they are in the landscape, spring bulbs are especially enjoyable indoors.
Any size container with drainage holes may be used to grow spring bulbs. Plant the bulbs in pots using potting soil. The bulbs should be close together but not touching, and the tips of the bulbs should show just above the soil surface.
There is a trick with tulips. Look carefully, and you will see that one side of the bulb is flattened. Plant the bulbs so that the flat side faces the outside edge of the pot. The first leaf the bulbs send up will all face the outside, creating a more attractive presentation.
Place the planted container outside in a shady spot where it is cool. Move the pot to a sunny location when growth from the bulbs is about an inch tall. Only bring the container in on nights when temperatures are predicted to reach the mid-20s or below, and return the pot outside when the severe cold is over.
When the flower buds begin to show color, bring the pots inside for display. The flowers will last longer if they are kept cool. So if you keep your house warm, move the pot to a cool room or outside at night if you can.
Hyacinths are one of the easiest bulbs to bloom in containers and can even be grown in bowls without drainage holes and filled with pebbles or stone chips. Plant the bulbs close together but not touching so that about half the bulb is covered by the pebbles, and add enough water to reach the bottom of the bulbs. Add water regularly to keep it at that level. Grow them as recommended above. Bulbs may also be grown just in water in special hyacinth vases shaped like hourglasses.
As the hectic pace of the holidays slows, take some time to plant your bulbs. If you neglect to plant your bulbs for bloom this spring, you cannot hold them until December of next year.