Stillwater News Press


April 14, 2012

In the Garden 04-15-12

Recently, I came back from spring in South Carolina and Georgia to early summer in Oklahoma. Like a roll of the dice, one week to the next predicting the weather and determining timely topics for this garden column is sometimes quite the challenge.

I left when all of my hybrid tulips were in tight bud; I anticipated coming home to small glimpses of Holland. Instead, during the much appreciated rain followed by unseasonably warm temperatures (think summer in March), the tulips opened, breathed a breath of hot air and faded in a matter of days. However, this week’s topic of fertilizing bulbs still stands; the bulbs simply won’t be blooming.

Bulbs, be they tulips or daffodils, rhizomatous iris or corms of gladiolus by nature store energy in their fleshy root to carry them through a dormant season and push new foliage and flower the following year. By the end of this cycle, the bulk of stored reserves has been used up and needs replenishing for the cycle to continue.

Nature grants them green foliage to capture the sun and transform it into food, but nutrients and minerals in the soil greatly assist the seasonal bulbs in the short time before their leaves die. Now, while the foliage is still bright, is the best time to sprinkle fertilizer in and around the plants.

Most people add a small amount of packaged bulb fertilizer to the soil when planting bulbs. There is nothing wrong with this if the ingredients in the mix are organic, for organic fertilizers release slowly and linger in the soil. It is safe to assume an organic bulb fertilizer applied at planting time will deliver needed nutrients to a bulb after flowering.

For established beds, I like to reach for the bone meal. This whitish powder is easy to apply and available for the plants to absorb within approximately 30 days. Occasionally if bone meal is glumped on, animals may dig where it is applied. The solution? Sprinkle a thin layer around the leaves and water thoroughly so it penetrates the top layer of soil.

Another option is to apply rock phosphate in the fall. The slow breakdown of rock phosphate will coincide with bloom and petal drop of most spring blooming bulbs.

Remember to stay flexible with your gardening to-do list. Watch your plants to time pruning and fertilizing and be ready to pinch hit if we are dealt another roasting summer.

LeeAnn Barton, Stillwater, can be emailed at

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