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Omaha Magazine

Beyond Tulips: Countless Options for Fall Bulb Planting

Sep 30, 2020 12:19PM ● By Katrina Markel
tulip bulbs in bowl

Fall bulb planting—most notably, tulips—conjures images of striped fields with vibrant blooms, farmers in wooden shoes, and windmills churning in the distance. The magical flower has captured imaginations since it was brought to Western Europe from Turkey in the late 16th century. 

“Tulips are romanticized because every time you think of tulips you think of The Netherlands,” said Scott Evans, horticulture program coordinator with the University of Nebraska Extension office for Douglas and Sarpy counties. 

Evans said that tulips, crocuses, and daffodils are among the most popular bulbs to plant in fall, which is the best season for adding them to your landscape. For gardeners who want a resilient flower, he recommends daffodils. 

“Daffodils are reliably hardy. They don’t get the wide range of colors like tulips, but the nice thing about daffodils is that they’re critter-resistant,” Evans said.

He also suggests Species tulips, an older strain of the flower that tends to last longer than the more fragile tulips that have been bred for dramatic color, and also produce multiple blooms per stem. Peonies are another hardy option and are sometimes categorized as bulbs. Evans said that they are the “longest-lived perennial out there.” 

There are dozens of flowering plants that grow from bulbs and, despite how easy they can be to cultivate, Evans said the popularity of bulb planting has waned in the last several years. He recommends a resource created by bulb companies to promote and educate gardeners about bulb planting: DigDropDone.com. This helpful resource provides seasonal planting calendars, recommendations for species that work well together, methods to amend sandy or clay soils, and helpful tips for fighting those pesky critters. 

“Squirrels love to dig up bulbs. I don’t know why. You plant them, they dig them up, and it’s a battle of the wills,” said Evans, who added deer and rabbits also occasionally snack on bulbs.

It’s possible to protect more vulnerable plants from hungry herbivores. Online resources recommend placing a mesh barrier over the bulbs like a blanket and then removing it as the plants start to sprout. Some gardeners wrap a chicken wire cage around their tulip bulbs. 

“It depends on your enthusiasm to have tulips because that’s a lot of work,” Evans said. 

Most animals that threaten bulbs are of the furry variety, but the iris borer moth is a particularly destructive insect. Its larvae tunnel into the iris leaves and travel down to the rhizome, destroying the plant. Insecticides can sometimes help. 

“It can be kind of devastating,” Evans said, “especially with the Iris because you can spend a pretty penny on some of those cultivars and just watch them get destroyed.” 

There are several species of lilies that do well in the Nebraska climate. 

“Stargazer is probably one of the most popular, and you can plant that in the fall or the spring,” Evans said. “Ideally, planting it in the fall is better because the plant is more in sync with Mother Nature.”

The life cycle process of bulbs requires a winter cooling period. Planting when the ground temperature is cool is also recommended. DigDropDone.com suggests a soil temperature below 50º F. 

Evans said a common mistake is to plant bulbs at the wrong depth, which varies depending on the plant species. He also reminds gardeners that the pointy-end of a bulb goes up. If the top isn’t obvious, the bulb can be placed on its side and the plant will adjust. 

Other tips: Always plant in well-drained, loose soil, and add fertilizer to the bottom of the planting holes. 

“You want to plant in a grouping so you can make your pop of color. Don’t just plant like, one tulip here, another tulip here. Plant like 10 or 15 in a [mass],” Evans said. 

So, get digging! Come spring, you’ll be happy you did. 

For more information visit extension.unl.edu or digdropdone.com.

This article was printed in the October 2020 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.