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Most of us are hardly ready for autumn, much less next winter or spring, but in the garden you have to plan ahead.

To have daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and all the spring-flowering bulbs blooming in yourgardens next April and May, you'll have to begin planting them now so that their root systems have a chance to develop before winter freezes come.

Spring blooming bulbs brighten up any lawn or garden and serve asone of the first signs of the arrival of spring. The sheer diversityof bulb species and the unique beauty and color of each plant make picking which bulb you want perhaps the most difficult step in planting these flowers.

One way to make this decision easier is to chooseyour bulbs according to the time during spring when they'll bloom. Plant some early varieties, which may even begin flowering before the last snow melts, as well as some that will bloom at mid-season, and some that bloom in late spring. This way your garden will blaze with different colors as the season progresses.

The very earliest bloomers include the galanthus (snowdrops), the sky blue chionodaxa, eranthis (winter aconite), crocus, and the purple or yellow Iris reticulata.

As these early risers start to fade, your next set of bulbs willappear. These include the Kaufmanniana and Fosteriana tulips, the muscari (Grape Hyacinth), and the trumpet and medium-cupped daffodils. Other tulip varieties that will flower in the early- to mid-spring season are Triumph, Darwin hybrid, and the single-early and double-early tulips.

Among the late bloomers are yet more tulips -- the lily-flowered, the parrots, the double-late or peony-flowered, and the Darwin and cottage varieties. Other flowers that will help to close out your spring in a burst of color include the Scilla campanulata (Spanish squill) and the alliums, or ornamental onions.

Now that you have chosen your bulbs and mapped out a strategy for springtime beauty, you'll need to know when in the fall to plant the different bulbs, plus how to plant and care for them.

Early fall is the best time to plant these bulbs so they'll have enough time to establish a good root system before the ground freezes. The earliest bloomers should be planted by early October; the hyacinths and other mid-season bloomers should be in the ground by mid- to late October. Most tulips, and thealliums, can be safely planted up until the first freeze.

Select firm and healthy bulbs with no sign of blemishes or insect damage. It's a good idea to plan on putting in at least 12-30 bulbs of each variety to achieve the most colorful effect, as most spring bloomers do best when planted in clumps or groups.

Bulbs are very hardy plantsand can thrive under a variety of conditions. However, there is one cardinal rule -- choose a well-drained site. A site with a gentle slope is ideal. By mixing peat moss or sand with your soil before planting, you can help alleviate the problem of poor drainage.

Optimal lighting for these plants varies greatly, but generally the bulb will survive with as little as 6 hours of strong light each day. Grape hyacinths, snowdrops, crocus, winter aconites and the hyacinths will alldo well in shady conditions. Wood hyacinths actually prefer light shade, while the Siberian squill will flourish in any light, even deep shade.

To prepare your planting area for the bulbs themselves, loosen the soil to a depth of approximately 12 inches. Place the bulbs firmly in the loosened soil with the pointed end up. Tulips, hyacinthsand daffodils should be planted 6 inches deep and spaced 6-8 inches apart. The smaller bulbs, the crocus for example, need to be planted 4-6 inches deep and separated by 3-4 inches. Once you have the bulbs placed in the soil at the proper depth, completely cover them with soil and water. Next cover them with a protective mulch and more water.You'll need to continue regular watering until the first freeze.

As the winter comes and goes, the bulbs -- which contain the grown flower in an embryo-like stage -- will develop and grow, getting ready to make their colorful entrance in the spring.

After the first shoots of the plant appear in the spring, treat your bulbs to a fertilizer high in potassium and nitrogen. After this fertilizing, there is nothing left to do but enjoy their beauty.

After the flowers have faded, you should remove them from the plant. But the leaves should beleft to ripen and should not be cut until they start to turn yellow.It's during this time after flowering that the plants are producing new bulbs and storing up food for the winter.

As most bulbs are perennials, the flowers will brighten your garden each spring, and since many types of bulbs multiply, the dazzling show of color should continue to increase year after year.

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