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Growing Pretty Flowers from Bulbs

By Charles Hopkins Published 04/25/2006 | Gardening
Mention bulbs and most people think of daffodils or jonquils, but the range of bulbous plants extends far beyond those pretty flowers.

While tulips, hyacinths and snowdrops also belong with the 'true' bulb family, there are many flowers that have corms, rhizomes or tubers. These include agapanthus and hippeastrums, dahlias, cannas and other lilies, irises, begonias, anemones and amaryllis, to name just a few.

Not only do bulbs do the work of reproducing the plant, they store food for those months when the leaves die and the plant is dormant. Thus, when the conditions are right the new plant has all it needs to thrust new shoots up into the sunlight.

Most bulbs need moist, rich, free draining soil and a sunny position to grow happily. Many flower in the spring, but such is their diversity, it is possible to have bulbs flowering in every month of the year.

To grow bulbs such as tulips in a temperate region, keep them in the refrigerator for four to eight weeks before planting out at the coldest time of year. In cold ares, plant in late autumn. Tulips like warm, dry summers alkaline soil. They may be affected by aphids, or a fungal condition called 'tulip fire' if there is too much moisture about. Their vibrant colors make them well worth a place in the garden.

Bulbs will usually do well if their natural habitat is approximated in the garden. For instance, daffodils are meadow flowers, so like plenty of sun. They will naturalize successfully in the lawn and flower early before the grass becomes too competitive. It's best not to mow for at least six weeks after the flowers die, because the leaves provide food to the bulb for next years' growth.

Woodland bulbs like bluebells and snowdrops will do better in a semi-shaded or a dappled sun position. They do well under deciduous trees. Spring-flowering bulbs may be planted near a well-used path or where they can be seen from a window to save trekking over soggy lawns to admire them.

Most bulbs can be grown successfully in containers, but need at least four inches ((10 cm)) of soil below them and 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) above. It's a good idea to plant bulbs in a pot and bury it in the garden to prevent them from being accidentally hoed during a weeding session. If you have trouble with rodents eating your bulbs, plant them inside a wire cage buried in the garden.

Daffodils, or narcissus, are easy to grow and most tolerate at least light frosts. There are many varieties and all are beautiful, but nurseries tend to only stock the most common kinds. Mail order specialist nurseries are where to find the more unusual of these beauties. Colors vary from white through cream to yellow and some even have pale pink trumpets, so it's well worth the extra trouble to seek them out.