How to - Gardening with Kids

Kids and bulbs

Plant in fall for a spectacular spring show

For all their majesty, flowering bulbs are among the easiest plants for kids to grow. Each bulb is a complete package that practically guarantees success. Even young children can create a breathtakingly beautiful spring display in containers, a garden or naturalized in a lawn with spring bulbs. The snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils and tulips you help your child plant this fall will delight the entire family next spring.

True bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, already contain the leaves, stems, roots and food for next year's plants. If you slice an onion-another true bulb-in half vertically you'll discover the beginning of its leaves, stems and flower buds. Slice another onion in half horizontally and you can see rings formed by the scale leaves, which store food the bulb uses as it grows.

What Types to Plant
Snowdrops, crocuses, tulips and daffodils are dependable choices for kids to plant. Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are white, bell-shaped flowers that often push up through melting snow, then bloom for two to four weeks. Blooms hang like tiny lanterns on four- to six-inch (10- to 15-centimetre) stems. Plant them two to three inches (five to eight centimetres) deep and two to four inches (five to 10 centimetres) apart in full sun or part shade. They grow best in well-drained soil amended with compost. Snowdrops are inexpensive and multiply with each passing year.

Four- to six-inch (10- to 15-centimetre) tall, yellow, white or purple crocuses (C. vernus)-also early bloomers-look stunning planted in clumps in the lawn or garden. Technically they grow from corms, not bulbs: their storage tissue doesn't have visible rings. They prefer to grow in full sun, but tolerate partial shade. Plant corms two to four inches (five to ten centimetres) deep, two inches (five centimetres) apart. After planting-and every fall thereafter-top-dress the soil with bone meal or a balanced fertilizer. You'll be rewarded with clumps of blooms that increase in number each year.

Majestic tulips (Tulipa ssp.), dressed in purple, red, white, yellow and many colours in-between, open their petals wide on sunny days. They come in an amazing variety of sizes, scents and shapes, and bloom early, mid- and late season, depending on type. Carefully planned, you can have a splendid, long-lasting show of blooms all spring. Most produce one flower per bulb on a one- to 2 1/2-foot (30- to 75-centimetre) stem. Some tulips multiply, but most fade away after a couple of springs. Planting depth varies, but tulip bulbs are generally planted five to eight inches (13 to 20 centimetres) deep in well-drained soil. Sprinkle a little bonemeal into the bottom of each hole before planting.

And jaunty daffodils (Narcissus) in shades of white and yellow (some with trumpets of orange or pink) are rays of sunshine even on cloudy days. As with tulips, you can have flowering daffodils almost all spring if you plant early- and late-blooming varieties. Ranging from six to 18 inches (15 to 45 centimeters) tall, daffodils prefer well-drained soil, amended with peat moss or well-aged manure, in full sun and part shade. They put on a grand show in rock gardens, borders and beds, and even under deciduous shrubs and trees. Plant daffodils four to six inches (10 to 15 centimetres) deep, three to six inches (eight to 15 centimeters) apart, in well-drained soil. They are great multipliers.

To discourage squirrels and other rodents from digging up crocuses and tulips (snowdrops and daffodils are immune to such invasions), sprinkle bloodmeal over the planted area.

Spring bulbs need little maintenance once established. For about six weeks after blooming, allow the leaves to gather energy from the sun for next year's display; remove only after they die back to the ground.

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