Flower bulbs offer gardeners an easy, economical way of producing a vibrant flower garden. Bulb flowers come in a vast array of colors, sizes and flowering periods. Gardeners often plant bulbs in intervals to obtain continuous blossoms throughout the spring and fall seasons. Even when the blooms have faded, these plants accentuate flowerbeds or containers with their showy foliage. Bulbs provided with satisfactory growing conditions will fervently blossom year after year.
Flower bulbs cultivated for commercial purposes began in the late 16th century in Haarlem, a municipality in the Netherlands. Haarlem, however, is not the place of their origin. Tulip bulbs came from central Asia, and dahlias originated in Mexico. The amaryllis bulb originated in South America, while freesias and calla lilies hailed from South Africa. When these bulbs were brought to Haarlem, their marketing value was quickly recognized. Thus, they became popular throughout Haarlem and surrounding regions. Today, flower bulb production continues to be an important, profitable industry in the Netherlands.
Types of Bulbs
Bulbs are divided into two general categories:
Spring-flowering bulbs should be planted in the fall since root development is stimulated through the dormant period of frigid temperatures. These bulbs must be in the ground before the first heavy frost, be exposed to full or partial sun and be planted in locations that have good drainage. Spring-flowering bulbs include tulips and daffodils.
Summer and fall-flowering bulbs are planted in late spring. These flowers do well in borders, rock gardens, ground covers, containers and hanging baskets but cannot survive winter temperatures. Bulbs dug up each fall should be stored in a cool location until planting time. Lilies, colchicums and saffron crocuses are examples of this type of bulb.
"Bulb" is a common term referring to the fleshy storage system of plants that grow from underground. In reality, not all of these storage systems are bulbs. All flowers grown in such manner are not grown from bulbs. Some plants, such as the cannas, are grown from rhizomes. Gladioli are grown from corms. Dahlias are produced from tuberous roots. Corms are shorter and rounder than bulbs and usually have a flat top and a concave bottom. Rhizomes are plants with a root-like stem and tuberous roots are just that--roots.
Conditions for Growing
For a bulb plant to develop properly and produce every spring, it must be given a proper growing environment. Bulbs should be planted in an area where they can remain undisturbed through cold winter temperatures. Poor soil can be fortified with organic matter. Mulching the ground can help protect the plants from heaving--uprooting that can occur through continuous freezing and thawing of the ground. All foliage should remain on established plants after spring or fall blooms have faded. This enables the plants to replenish food supplies through photosynthesis. When this process is complete, foliage will die back naturally. Dried plants can be removed when foliage has died back completely.
Reproduction of Plants
Some bulbous plants produce seeds that can be germinated and grown into flowering plants. This method of propagation is not as popular as propagation by division. Propagation by division is, in most cases, easier, and flower color and type can be predicted. New bulbs develop quickly in the spring. These young bulbs are closely attached at the bottom of the mature bulb. Separation must take place for the mature bulb to continue to produce proficient plants and blooms.