As I look at my thermometer, it appears that the time for planting my spring garden is a long way off. If I look at my calendar, it says I need to be making my plans for those beautiful spring flowers right now.
Stopping by local nurseries, I see that many have their stock of spring flowering bulbs already on display. Since I had the rare privilege of spending several weeks visiting the world famous Dutch bulb fields and Dutch bulb growers this spring, I want to share information I learned there.
One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Kuekenhof. This is the showplace for the best that growers in Holland have to offer. It is billed as the most beautiful spring garden in the world. It covers almost 80 acres and is only open for about two months in the spring. They plant more than seven million bulbs each fall. All of the bulbs are dug at the end of the season when the gardens close in May and they are not reused. Even the grass is replanted using more than 15,000 pounds of grass seed each year.
Some 87 of the finest flower bulb growers in the Netherlands use this beautiful, park-like setting with some of the trees dating back more than 150 years. They plant to show off the newest and latest flower bulbs from their hybridizers as well as magnificent displays of traditional favorites from their stunning flower bulb farms.
Daffodils are among the earliest flowering and sturdiest of all the spring bulbs. They are referred to by differing names including narcissus, jonquils, buttercups or daffy-down-dillies. At least 79 identified species are known but more than 25,000 hybrids are listed in the Daffodil Data Bank.
The confusion in naming is partially clarified as the American Daffodil Society suggests using daffodil as the name for all of the flowers except in scientific papers. They divide the flowers into 13 divisions of official classification with "jonquils" applying to one of those divisions.
Gardeners love daffodils for many reasons. They are the very first large flowers that signal spring has arrived. They are an easy-to-grow perennial bulb that requires very little care once planted.
Some reasons for their popularity with Utah gardeners are that they are drought-tolerant and deer-resistant. They contain a poisonous alkaloid that deer and rodents do not like so if these animals cause problems in your garden, plant daffodil, not tulips.
The dark buttery yellow color is what pops into most people's mind when they think daffodils. If you're one of those, expand your horizons. Modern hybridizers have created a rainbow of colors that include white, cream, yellow, apricot, pink, orange, green, lavender and red.
In spite of the color differences, all daffodils have a similar flower form with six petals forming the base for a trumpet. This cup- or bell-shaped corona forms at a 90-degree angle to the flower petals. The corona on most daffodils is single, although on some cultivars they are double or ruffled like a peony.
The blossoms grow as a single flower or in multiple-blossom clusters. Although all the daffodils bloom in the spring, they do have different bloom times. These range in our area from March to May. Use early-season, mid-season and late-season cultivars for a more continuous display.
The only way to get stunning displays of beautiful daffodil trumpets in the spring is to plant quality bulbs in the fall. Although flower size varies according to the ultimate size of the daffodil flower growing, bigger bulbs produce bigger flowers.
Avoid unseen collections that do not give the bulb size. Smaller, second-grade bulbs may not produce blossoms the year after they are planted. One of the interesting things I learned while visiting the Dutch bulb farms is that their strict quality standards prohibit them from exporting poor quality bulbs.
Select bulbs at local nurseries that are firm to the touch without any cuts or nicks in the bulb. Avoid any bulbs that show signs of mold or other disease.
Because of the nature of the bulb crops, most nurseries anticipate the stocks that they will sell and order the previous spring. There is no point in waiting to buy your bulbs because when the stock runs out, it is typically gone for the year. Buy them now, although you likely won't plant them for several more weeks.
Beautiful spring gardens are not just composed of daffodils that have many other spring flowering bulbs as a part of their showplace displays. They are over-planted with a collection all winter annuals, Biennials and spring blooming perennials.
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Spectacular Spring Flower Bed Designs: Sept. 11, 18, and 25, 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. or 6 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Create wonderful spring flower gardens by knowing what to plant in the fall. Choose bulbs, winter annuals, biennials and spring blooming perennials to create the wonderful, showy gardens you see here and at Temple Square. Cost is $40 for the three-week course.
Creating Fabulous Fall Color in the Landscape: Sept. 11, 18, and 25, 2 p.m.-4:30 p.m. and Oct. 2, 9, 16 and 23, 10 a.m.-noon. Fall is one-fourth of the year but is an often neglected gardening season. Create the finest fall garden in the neighborhood by selecting the trees, shrubs, perennials and ornamental grasses for a riot of fall color. Dress to walk in the gardens. Cost is $40 for the three- or four-week course.
Larry A. Sagers is a horticulture specialist for the Utah State University Extension Service at Thanksgiving Point.