Plant different types of spring bulbs

October 16, 2009|By JEFF RUGG / Creators Syndicate

Q: My wife likes tulips and daffodils, but I don't like the display we get from them. They all bloom at once, and then there is nothing. It is a lot of work for not much flowering time. How can we get more blooms?

A: In the world of spring flowering bulbs, there are three seasons to spring: early, mid and late spring, and each one is about two weeks long. The Dutch bulb growers classify their spring bulbs this way and so do most catalogs. Unfortunately, many retail stores sell generic bulbs without much label information.

When the Dutch growers say early, mid and late spring, they are talking about mid-April, early May and late May in planting zone six, which covers much of the middle of North America - it is the same hardiness zone in which Holland is located. If you are in a southern area, your spring starts a month to six weeks earlier, and northerners can see spring compressed into just May if the weather stays cold. Blooming times are weather-related not calendar-related, so don't be too concerned if the bulbs don't bloom exactly on time.


Look at the bulbs that you buy. Get some from each time period for a longer lasting display. On the other hand, find bulbs with the same season to have flower beds with two colors, out of two different kinds of bulbs planted together.

Bulbs that come back the second year may bloom a couple of weeks early because the roots are already established.

Q: My daughter says daffodils should be called Narcissus. I have heard them called jonquils all my life. What is the difference?

A: There is really no difference between the three names. The name Narcissus is the botanical name for all of the daffodils and jonquils. The American Daffodil Society says that unless you need to speak in a botanical matter, the name daffodil should be used.

Jonquils are a particular group of daffodils, according to Great Britain's Royal Horticultural Society that keeps the official list of daffodil names. Jonquils have several flowers on the same stem, a strong fragrance and rounded foliage. All other daffodils are officially not jonquils. However, many people in various regions have special common names for plants, and if you say all daffodils are jonquils, you are fine as long as you aren't entering any in an official contest.

Q: We had several phalaenopsis and paphiopedilum orchids out on a table in the shade of our house all summer. I don't know if it was animals or high winds, but several pots broke when they were knocked off the table. I guess I never noticed before, but they were not planted in potting soil. I scraped enough up to mostly fill new pots, but I think I should repot them. What should I use? It looks like bark, old pottery and charcoal.

A: It is likely that your local garden center carries a bag of orchid potting soil. Most orchids need a wide open soil, so that while it stays damp, there is still air space. If you can't find a packaged mix, you can make one by mixing equal parts of bark pieces about the size of a quarter: perlite, peat most, compost and terrarium charcoal. Some mixes use a ceramic pebble that holds moisture, which is probably what looked like old pottery in your plant's mix.

Trim off any broken or dead roots using sterile scissors. Spread the roots in the pot and pour in the potting mix around the roots. The plant should be stable in the pot without needing to be tied down. Soak the whole pot for an hour. The next watering will probably be in a week to 10 days. Once you see new roots, you can resume fertilizing at a quarter strength every other watering.

o E-mail questions to Jeff Rugg, University of Illinois Extension at

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