The beginning of October is a great time to plant spring flowering bulbs. Our cool winters and dry summers are what many bulbs need to bloom happily.
Purchase bulbs as soon as you see them for sale at local garden centers or nurseries and if you cannot plant them right away, store them in a cool, dry spot where you will not forget about them. Finding a forgotten bag of unplanted tulip bulbs is almost a spring tradition for some gardeners. Your bulbs really do need to go into the ground before January for the best spring display.
Planting bulbs in October will give them the time they need to develop roots before winter arrives.
Q. Where can I buy a large number of tulip bulbs at a wholesale price? I want to surprise my wife by planting several hundred red and white tulips in a newly vacant garden bed. She will be gone for a weekend and so that is when I plan to do the bulb planting in secret. I hope to surprise her this May with hundreds of tulips in bloom for a milestone anniversary. J.K. Tacoma
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A. Romance in bloom is on the way. There is a company that has been selling spring bulbs in 100 lot color groupings for more than 50 years. They do require a $60 minimum order, but they have taken the guess work out of mixed bulb displays by testing combinations together for perfect timing and color blends. The company is called “ColorBlends” and you can contact them at colorblends.com or phone 888-847-8637 and ask for a catalog. I found a red and white combo of tulips for you called “White Hot” and you can order 200 tulip bulbs in a 50/50 blend of colors. They also offer blends of daffodils and muscari, hyacinths and even amaryllis for indoor blooms. It is the classic tulip blends that made this company a favorite of public and private show gardens. Order early for best supply.
Q. Can you help me figure out what type of bulb to plant? I was visiting a now gone neighbor and impressed that she had these very tall and impressive flowers in bloom despite the deer population in our neighborhood. I cannot remember the name, but I do remember they were taller than tulips and the flowers hung upside down. I believe they were orange in color. Any ideas? R.T., Olympia
A. Sounds like the majestic Crown Imperial, a Fritillaria that is very popular in Europe and needs to be planted more often, especially in areas where deer and rodents damage tulips and other spring bulbs. The bulbs are large and need a sunny site with good drainage.
Local nurseries and garden centers have been selling them in the fall next to their display of other bulbs. Plant a generous grouping of six to 12 Crown Imperial Fritillaria this fall and you’ll have neighbors knocking on your door this spring asking you what they are. I have also heard that Crown Imperial Fritillaria are called “punk flowers” because the unusual topnotch of green leaves above the blooms looks like hair you would see in a punk rock band.
Q. I would like to force some fragrant bulbs indoors for enjoyment this winter. I have a special glass vase called a “hyacinth” vase and I used this last year to force hyacinths into bloom. Is there a daffodil that I can also force? Do I need a special daffodil vase? W.D., Enumclaw
A. You have a lovely winter in your future if you take the time to plant some fragrant bulbs now for indoor bloom. The daffodils best for indoor use are called “Paperwhites” and they do not need any special chilling or treatment — nor any special vases. Just set these daffodil bulbs on a tray or saucer of pebbles that are kept moist and watch them grow.
You will need to stake or corral the tall stems to keep them from flopping over but the sweet fragrance will permeate an entire room. Paperwhites will flower 5-6 weeks after planting so you can plan your bloom time to have fragrant indoor flowers for the holidays. They really are nature’s version of air fresheners.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.