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  • By Lisa Jevens

How to Plant Bulbs

Nothing wipes away the winter blues like the burst of color that tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and crocuses provide. With proper care, planting bulbs in the fall will give you a flower show year after year. There are many interesting new colors and varieties of daffodils and tulips available, which make it easy to create a show-stopping display.

The thing to look for when selecting bulbs is size and grade. No. 1 is the best grade, promising bigger, consistent, guaranteed blooms, says Richard Hentschel, a horticulture extension educator at the University of Illinois Extension Service. "Sometimes you will see a bag of daffodils with big, medium and small bulbs. Perhaps not every one will bloom the first year. The larger the bulb, the more likely it is to bloom" he says.

Pick the Best Bulbs Make sure the bulbs you buy are clean and dry with no mold or rot. Bulbs look the best when planted close together in generous clumps of at least seven or nine, so don't skimp on quantity, Hentschel says. "It's much more impressive that way." Planting bulbs in the fall is one of the simplest garden tasks. All you really need is a shovel and some water. Bulb fertilizer is optional.

Select Your Spot

If you want your bulbs to bloom year after year, select a site that gets a fair amount of sun throughout the spring. Once bulbs bloom, the plants need all that light to produce and store energy in their bulbs so they can re-bloom the following year. Your bulbs might not re-bloom, if the plants don't get enough sunlight – or if you cut their foliage back before it has fully yellowed and died at the end of the blooming cycle. "Some people treat bulbs as annuals and simply plant new ones each year," Hentschel adds. Check Your Soil Once you have chosen your site, make sure the soil drains well and is not clay. If it is sticky and clumpy, mix in compost or other organic material first, the Extension advises. You can even test your soil's pH level if you want to ensure happy bulbs. They prefer a pH level between 6 and 7. If your soil falls outside this range, you can add things to make it more acidic or more alkaline, whichever is required. Consult the bag the bulbs came in for the recommended planting depth. It's usually 6-8 inches. Look for a diagram showing which end of the bulb goes in the dirt and which end points up. Some people add bulb fertilizer or bone meal to the hole in order to encourage root growth. If you want to do so, read the instructions carefully as to where the fertilizer should be placed and how much should be used. If you have problems with squirrels or chipmunks digging up your bulbs, this is the point in the process where you can prevent that. Place the bulbs in the hole, and cover them with a few inches of dirt. Then lay some precut chicken wire over them. Fill in the hole and water the area to allow the soil to settle. Now you can sit back, let your bulbs put down roots, and count the days until you see that first green sprout in the spring.

Originally published in the Chicago Tribune "From House to Home" section, and on on September 22, 2014.

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