Buying Ornamental and Flowering Bulbs

Bulbs are an easy way to get blooms early in a season and there are different versions available for every season.  Bulbs are not just for flowers, there are some great ornamental plants too that have variegated or colored leaves; or odd-sized or ruffled foliage.

Bulb choices at local garden center.

Finding the right bulbs is a research task.  The easiest way is to ask your gardening friend for suggestions.  Or you can start by checking out your local gardening store.  Another alternative is to search the internet for flowering bulbs or ornamental bulbs to find an on-line source or a mail order company for their available options.  Check the information on the bulbs that interest you to be sure they are suitable for the area where you live.  Or if you plan to give them as gifts, make sure they will thrive in their new garden home area.  If you want bulbs that come back every year, watch for that information in the descriptions.  If you want flowering bulbs that will multiply and produce more flowers every year, look for ones that say they “naturalize” in the descriptions.

After you have done some research and determined what type of bulbs you would like to get.  You will need to plan for purchasing them.
  • Option A:  If you want to get the bulbs from a local source, then ask someone at that nursery or garden shop when then think the type of bulbs you want will be in.  When that time arrives, return to the store to check out the bulbs.  Or you can just buy some great alternative bulbs when you see them in the stores.  The nice thing about buying bulbs this way is you see what you are getting and you can assume that the bulbs typically need to be planted in your area within a month of their showing up in the stores.  So plan on getting to work in the garden or landscape soon after you purchase them.
  • Option B: If you order from an on-line source or mail order catalog, you will not get to see the bulbs before you have already paid for them.  However most of the sources do provide excellent bulbs because they want you to be a returning customer.  Also they usually will not mail them until near the time they must be planted, so you do not have to worry about them drying up.  Also these sources may be the only way you will get some specialized items.  It is best to plant these bulbs within a week of receiving them, if the ground is not frozen.  Otherwise wait until after it thaws as is the rule of thumb for planting most bulbs.
When purchasing your bulbs, try to find ones that are plump and firmMany types of bulbs will also have papery outside skins like an onion, just squeeze those to be sure they are firm too.  You do not want bulbs that are extremely dried out, soggy, molding, crumble when squeezed, or have a large plant coming out the top (small sprouts are ok).  These “don’t” bulbs will most likely not produce as desired.  It is easy to inspect bulbs that come unpackaged in bins at local nurseries.  However, if you are buying the bulbs in bulk packaging, go for ones you can see through the plastic bag or netting.  Skip those you are unable to inspect.

TIP:  You can buy bulbs that are planted in pots so you have a head start on blooms or foliage in your yard.  However, most bulbs that have already bloomed in pots in the store may not bloom again that same year.  So buy them early rather than later.  Plant those from pots in your area as soon as the last freeze has passed, if they are not a cold tolerant variety.

CAUTION:  It is ok to buy bulbs from the clearance bin if they meet the above suggestions and do not have bugs flying out of the packages.  Just be aware that clearance bulbs will most likely not flower (even if they sprout after planting) the first year.  This is because their preferred planting time may have passed by the time they make it to the clearance category and you then get them in the ground.  Always plant clearance bulbs as soon as you bring them home. 

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