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Spring Bulbs

Martha Stewart Living Television

An autumn planting of spring-blooming bulbs can be one of the most satisfying tasks of the garden year. Thoughts of snowdrops, daffodils, allium, and grape hyacinth can help sustain you through cold months of winter. Best of all, bulbs are easy to grow, and most of them will return year after year -- and even increase in number if correctly planted.

Design
Martha likes to layer several types of bulbs in the same area, which results in longer, successive blooms and a bold visual impact. For example, muscari and certain tulips that coincide will form a lush two-tone carpet.

Planting galanthus about the tulips will bring a very early white bloom. Adding lilies to the planting area would assure a splashy summertime show, too. Layering works well in small spaces since bulbs take up very little room.

When planting several varieties of bulbs, lay them in masses (avoid spotty designs). Remember to work naturalistically; soldier-like rows should be reserved for very formal gardens.

Purchasing Bulbs
For the very best bulbs, shop by mail. The selection offered by better suppliers is far greater than what you find at a local garden center, and usually the quality is better. Make sure the supplier specifies that all its bulbs are nursery-propagated. Otherwise, you may purchase bulbs collected from wild colonies, a type of commerce that has eliminated many wildflowers from their natural habitats. Nursery-raised bulbs tend to be larger and hardier than wild varieties.

Plating Bulbs How-To
1. Turn the soil to a depth of at least 12 inches; use a spading fork to avoid damaging the roots of nearby trees. Add bone meal at a rate of two pounds per 100 square feet to provide the phosphorus that stimulates root growth; a commercial organic bulb fertilizer provides the other nutrients.

2. Use a bulb planter to dig holes for large bulbs, or a small trowel or dibbler for small bulbs. As a rule, the hole should be three times as deep as the bulb's diameter, but suppliers generally include information on planting depths with shipments. Plant at the deeper end of the recommended range, since shallowly planted bulbs may otherwise be subject to a harmful cycle of freezing and thawing during their winter dormancy.

Maintenance
Maintenance is simple. Top-dress with bulb fertilizer in early spring, as soon as the new growth emerges from the ground, and again in the fall. Do not cut back foliage after flowers fade -- a common mistake; leave it to wither on its own.

This is important because the amount of food the leaves manufacture and store in the bulb determines the quality of next year's blooms. To keep the aging foliage from sprawling, braid the leaves together or tie them in a loose knot.