Q. I always get a pot of tulips for Easter. When they are finished blooming, I put them into the ground. But they never seem to come up in the spring. What am I doing wrong?
— P. S. of Belleville
A. There are two ways to keep these plants for another year. First, you can water them and take off any pot holder to allow the water to run through and out the bottom. If you do not remove this item, the bulbs will usually rot. The tulip plants should be placed in a sunny window or location and eventually they will go dormant. When the foliage turns yellow and begins to dry up, carefully remove the bulbs but do not take off the thin brown tissue that protects the bulb from disease. Place the bulbs is a shady dry location, then plant them again outside in the fall when the soil begins to cool down, such as mid-October.
The second method is to remove the plants very carefully, so you don’t break the stem, as soon as the flower petals begin to fall off. Then plant these bulbs at the same depth outside in the permanent spot where you want them to grow. Sprinkle some bulb fertilizer around the surface of these tulip plants, but do not allow the fertilizer to touch any part of the plants, especially the bulbs.
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Q. When is the correct time to plant seeds and plants outside in the spring?
— H. L. of Columbia
A. The best time is when the soil temperature has warmed up to 50 degrees. For this measurement, you need a soil thermometer. Another method is to wait until the Forsythia or golden bell shrubs finish flowering. Warm-season vegetable seeds do not germinate when the soil is colder than 50 degrees and the amount of rainfall can keep the soil temperatures below 50 until the soil dries out. Premature planting of seeds and plants can affect the growth throughout the whole summer growing season.
Woody plants, if they are planted dormant before the buds grow out into leaves, have a little more time. Herbaceous plants should be planted at the same time it is safe for planting seeds.
Sometimes it helps to harden plants off by placing the plants in their containers outside to get accustomed to bright sunlight and to the wind. This helps keep the plants from getting leggy. You will have to take them out in the morning and bring them in at night if there is a danger of frost.