I know the annuals are still looking spectacular and you’re hesitant to pull them out, but eventually it’s going to freeze and one morning those geraniums will be mounds of black mush. It’s a bit early to plant bulbs but it’s definitely not too early to be planning for the next phase in the garden so you’re ready when the weather does change.

Here are some frequently asked questions about fall bulbs that might help to clear up some misconceptions you may have-

What if I don’t get around to planting the bulbs I bought? Can’t I plant them in the spring? Bulbs are a wonder of nature, containing all of the genetics they need to sprout. But, they need time for this wonder to develop and to produce strong roots before the ground freezes. Get them into the ground soon.

Will bulbs be harmed if they come up during a warm spell in late winter, and then are subjected to a prolonged cold snap? No. Bulbs are very tough, even the most delicate-looking dwarf bulbs will survive a return of winter’s fury if they should happen to be up earlier than usual. The very earliest of bulbs like snowdrops, crocus and early narcissus will bloom happily with snow around them! When it turns cold the bulbs simply slow down their growth and adjust to their environment.

The bulbs came up last year, but they didn’t bloom. What happened? There are a few possible explanations. If the bulbs were stored before planting in a warm area, or stored near ripening fruit, the embryo inside the bulb may have been damaged. Or the bulb foliage may have been fertilized with a high nitrogen fertilizer (like spring lawn fertilizer) that produced healthy top growth at the expense of the flowers. Finally, the bulbs may have been inexpensive, but too small to produce a bloom the first year. Tulips and daffodils are sold according to size-the bigger the better.

Should I fertilize bulbs in the spring? For their first season bulbs don’t need any fertilizer; they’re completely self-contained for the full season of growth. After that a top dressing of aged manure or compost in the fall, or an application of a bulb food-type or all-around fertilizer like 6-8-6 in spring when the shoots appear will keep them happy. Don’t fertilizer after the bloom has ended.

What do I do after the flowers of tulips and daffodils have faded next spring? Tulips should be deadheaded by clipping off the finished blooms before they set seed, but daffodils can be left alone. It’s very important, though, to leave the foliage alone until it yellows. This could take several weeks after the blooming has finished. The bulb takes the energy in the foliage gained through photosynthesis to recharge itself for next spring, so resist the urge to “clean up” the foliage by clipping it back.

If I should forget to plant bulbs this fall, am I too late next spring? You won’t be able to plant bulbs in spring, but you’ll still find potted tulips, narcissus, crocus, iris and hyacinths in garden centres through February and March. Growers will plant bulbs in containers and hold them in coolers throughout the winter, bringing them out just before they are ready to bloom. You can enjoy them indoors on a cool windowsill, use them outside in containers or plant them out into the garden when weather conditions permit.

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