Plant bulbs now for spring blooms

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By Steve Moore

Fall is the time to think about all those flowers we associate with spring: daffodils, crocus and other easy-to-grow flowering bulbs. If you aren’t growing any spring-flowering bulbs in your landscape, you are missing out on some easy-to-grow plants that provide early color to your garden.

These bulbs are planted in fall because it corresponds to the end of their natural dormancy.  Most of these plants begin root growth in fall, followed by a cool stratification period necessary for proper flower development and then shoot growth in late winter and early spring.

No matter which bulbs you select, remember that the largest bulbs will produce the greatest show next spring.  However, smaller bulbs will still produce some flowers, and these may be the best choice for mass planting or naturalizing.  Avoid any bulbs that feel lightweight as these may have severely dried during storage.

It’s important to plant flowering bulbs at the proper depth, so inquire about plant depth at the nursery or follow the label directions.  Most bulbs do not need fertilization until growth emerges in the spring.  When you see plants emerging, apply one to two pounds per 100 square feet of a complete fertilizer (like 10-10-10).

Once flowering occurs, remove the faded blooms, but don’t remove the foliage. The leaves produce sugars and other compounds necessary for the bulb to overwinter and bloom again the next spring.  Most bulbs will enter dormancy in late spring or early summer and will renew growth, starting with the root system in the fall.

Effects of freeze on forages

Recent cold temperatures have prompted some questions about frosted/frozen forages.  While light frosts make JohnsonGrass and related sorghum family plants toxic with Prussic Acid, a killing freeze can be a good thing.  Once Johnsongrass is dry, either from cutting for hay or because it has been completely killed by frost, it is safe again. 

A few other commonly used forages, including alfalfa, are affected by freeze that may affect best management strategies. Although frost damaged alfalfa is not toxic, it is important to be cautious when grazing alfalfa after a hard freeze (less than 25F). After a freeze, the threat of bloat slightly increases for a few days. Once the plant starts growing again, bloat is less likely. Waiting a few days after a freeze can be a good practice to decrease risk of bloat when grazing alfalfa. Continue to use recommended practices to reduce the potential for bloat. If forage is needed and you plan to cut the alfalfa for hay, it is suggested to wait to cut until the first hard freeze or until early to mid-November (even without a freeze there is very little regrowth after this date).  

While frosts significantly reduce forage quality in most forage species, Tall fescue is unique because it almost seems to get better.  The quality loss from leaf deterioration is lower compared to other cool-season forages, and after experiencing a freeze, sugar content increases. This makes tall fescue ideal for stockpiling and winter grazing use.