Plant Spring Bulbs Now: Dear Garden Problem Lady


Why do we plant spring flower bulbs now, rather than next spring?

Planting now is essential. It’s not that winter’s cold weather “stimulates” dormant spring bulbs to grow roots. It is the soil that does, and the timing. Bulbs planted now still have months in which to grow roots until the ground freezes. Freezing doesn’t kill the roots, just halts their growth, until spring. More than spring can, fall planting gives roots the growing time they need.

Autumn is the best time to plant shrubs and trees – say my gardening friends. Isn’t that counter-intuitive? Nothing you plant now will bloom until the spring.

The best gardeners must learn the EXCEPTIONS to gardening rules! If you garden where winters are extremely cold yes, spring planting is better, especially for tender shrubs. But springtime has fewer temperate days, between the last frost and summer’s high heat, than autumn does. In fall’s waning sun new trees, shrubs, and perennials can put all their energy into growing strong roots, readier to absorb and use soil nutrients and water.

• You can use less water because plants that are slowly going dormant are less thirsty.

• Water well as you plant, then water only every four weeks through winter.

• Give no high nitrogen fertilizer; it would encourage growth in plants going dormant.

• For color now, plant pansies. They can bloom until spring temperatures reach 75 degrees. 

I have two new clematis vines, and I’m cross-eyed over when they need to be pruned. In the fall? Or in the spring? Do mine bloom on “old wood”? Or “new wood”? and what’s the difference?

You can prune off dead vines or re-direct healthy ones anytime – and even not pruning is OK. But for maximum health and bloom, experts do prune. You just have to find out when your Clematis bloom!

• Clematis that bloom on “old wood”, meaning on vines from the previous year – Pruning Category 1 – must never be pruned this late in the season (November) because you’d be cutting off next year’s blooms, which are already forming.

• Clematis that bloom on “new wood” – Pruning Category 3 – you can prune either now, or up to early next spring before they start branching their “new wood” vines. But don’t wait past March.

• Most Clematis fall into Pruning Category #2. They bloom on both new and old wood, and often bloom twice in one season. Prune the same as #3 – early in spring before new growth begins.

On Saturday, October 14 members Capitol Hill Garden Club will enjoy a tour of the Bishop’s Garden at the Washington National Cathedral. For more information, please visit the club’s website at

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