Q: I have recently moved to Mobile and would like to know which bulbs do well here, as well as when and how to plant them.
A: When my husband and I were living in West Virginia, one of my spring garden favorites was the narcissus, or daffodil. I planted some there, and the first year they bloomed and were beautiful; the second year they bloomed, there were more of them and they were even more beautiful.
Then we moved to Alabama, where I bought and planted daffodils. They came up, and although they were nothing like what I expected, I accepted them and assumed they needed a bit of settling-in time and would come back the following year a bit stronger.
Those that came back, and there weren’t many, were rather pitiful looking, with nary a bloom in sight. Lo and behold, I had bought daffodils that were not appropriate to coastal Alabama. I have since learned there are daffodils that thrive unattended here, but one has to shop specifically for the ones that grow well in Zones 8B and 9.
If you are serious about growing bulbs in Mobile, I would suggest that your first step be to check two publications put out by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. One is ANR 0047: “Alabama Gardener’s Calendar” and the other is ANR-1325: “Home Bulb Forcing.”
The first gives you bulb-specific guidelines according to the time of year, and the second gives you extensive information about forcing bulbs (i.e., causing them to flower under artificial conditions). These publications are available at the local Extension office or online at www.aces.edu. Your second source should be a good gardeners’ catalog or website. Oldhousegardens.com is an excellent source for bulbs that do well in Mobile.
Although it is too late to plant classic spring-flowering bulbs, there are bulbs that can be planted from now until July. Month-by-month planting guidelines for bulbs according to ANR 0047 for the entire calendar year are listed below.
· Late plantings of Dutch bulbs
· Lilies of all types except Madonna
· Indoor plantings of amaryllis, callas, and gloxinias
· Cannas, amaryllis, gladiolus and zephyranthes
· Gladiolus and dahlias
· Tuberous begonias in pots
Gladiolus, fancy-leaved caladiums, milk and wine lilies, gloriosa lilies and ginger
· Summer bulbs started in containers
· Iris and spider lilies (late in the month)
· Tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, crocuses, Dutch irises, anemones and ranunculuses
· Spring bulb plantings
· Lilies of the valley (in a shady place)
· Spring bulb plantings
Although bulbs you purchase should come with bulb-specific information, the general guidelines for their care and maintenance, listed below, may be helpful.
· Plant three times as deep as the bulb’s height and at least three bulb-widths apart “on center.”
· Sprinkle a modest amount of fertilizer that has a higher phosphorus number (e.g., 5-10-5) in the bottom of the hole and mix, or wait until bulbs begin to emerge from the ground and fertilize on the surface.
· Plant root side down in contact with underlying soil.
· Backfill and press to remove air pockets.
· Water well and add more soil as needed.
· Water about one inch of water per week after bulbs start to flower.
· Check regularly for any signs of bugs or disease.
· Remove flowers as they start to fade.
· Allow foliage to dry and wither before clipping.
· Dig bulbs after foliage has completely died (a sign the bulbs are dormant).
· Store bulbs in a cool, ventilated place to prevent decay.
· Discard diseased and undersized bulbs.
Ask locals about their favorite bulbs, consult the experts at the Extension office for specific advice and check accepted publications for information about the bulbs you are considering for your garden. Most of all, enjoy the beauty of flowering bulbs regardless of the time of year.