Does more shade mean bulbs pierce the ground later?

viktoria5March 31, 2011

I have planted two kinds of tulips, four kinds of ornamental onions, crocus, two kinds of fritillaria and quamash in my South-West facing front yard last fall. I also divided three hostas at that time (October) and replanted their babies in nine different spots. I used pine needle (acid) winter mulch, about three inches thick, all over the front yard.

The facade of my house is totally symmetrical, with the front porch dead center. Most of the bulbs are planted on either side of the porch, close to the wall, while some are planted in front of the porch, on either side of the stairs.

The right side of my planting, to the right of the porch, is a full sun location. It gets really hot and at this time of the year, although the days are still kinda short, it gets at least eight hours of direct sunlight on any given sunny day. Most of the bulbs I remember planting near the wall there are up, look healthy and most tulips are already showing buds. The daffodils near this location that I planted two years ago are also greening up and showing buds (much more buds than last year, some bulbs having three buds, to my delight). So far, I have been able to identify various onions and two kinds of tulips growing there happily. I even have an onion that was only supposed to bloom two to three years from the time of planting and it has a flower bud! Obviously, everything I planted in this location is perfectly happy (I gave them a healthy dose of shrooms at the time of planting).

However, I also planted anemones right in that spot, and there is absolutely no sign of them, even though they should bloom real soon. Now, I know that anemones need to be really fresh and they have to be planted quite early, and I waited a bit before planting them, and this doesn't help the success rate. But I did give them shrooms and I soaked them for a day before planting them. So, maybe they are just stubborn little rhizomes and decided to just turn to mush underground.

On the same side, away from the wall, in front of the porch, I planted fritillaria, quamash and crocus. There is absolutely no sign of them, not even a bit of raised soil.

On the other side, to the left of the porch, I have planted the exact same bulbs but placed differently as I don't like perfectly symmetrical plantings. The only difference is that there are no anemones and no crocus there. While the bulbs on the right, sunny side of the porch first showed up about three weeks ago, on the left side, there is absolutely nothing. No matter where I pull the mulch aside, there is naught but flat, black soil. This location gets much less sun as well because the porch is blocking out the sun. It does get a few hours of piercing evening sun, but other than that, it only gets day-long, heavily filtered sunlight.

I replanted hosta divisions more or less equally on both sides, and I see a few on both sides with growing tips, so no difference between the two sides as far as hostas are concerned.

My question is whether my bulbs on the left side of the porch are going to come up all the same but with some delay. The soil is supposed to be the same on both sides, and other than the sunlight, all conditions are the same. Squirrels have been active this spring, but they hate the pine mulch, so they never dug deeper than an inch. Can a lack of sunlight affect the time the bulbs come up this much? If that's the case, I am quite happy because this adverse effect means that overall spring bulb blooming will be much longer than expected. If not, then I dread having planted a bunch of expensive, high quality bulbs only to see them become compost the year after.

What do you think? In case some of you think that the bulbs to the left of the porch are goners, would you care to explain to me why that would be?

I have good, natural soil with hardly any fertilizer ever getting to it. It has a well balanced mix of sand, loam and clay, with the occasional gravel given that, before the house was built, the plot was part of a mine. Much of the front yard is shaded in summer as there are two huge silver maples overshadowing it (which have no leaves at the time bulbs are active). It is high in organic matter as a portion of the maple leaves are left on the ground in fall and we use pine needles as well. There is not much root competition as there are only small patches of lamium, a little bit of physostegia (mostly in shade so it takes over veeeeery slowly), tansy and hostas for the moment (I only started landscaping the front yard two years ago) and a creepy-crawly geranium that moves to a different spot each year all on its own, as well as a couple of young lavenders and a couple of pinks.

I will post pictures shortly, I just have to wait for the sun to come out to make good pictures so you can see the difference between the two sides.

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I forgot to mention that there is no sign of the crocus and the fritillaria on the right, sunny side in front of the porch, and the same goes for the quamash that are pretty close to the healthy, pretty bulbs that seem to be having fun in the sun.

I know not all bulbs come up at this time of the year (the quamash is supposed to be the latest of them all), but since onions are supposed to only bloom in early summer and they are well on their way all the same, I am worried. Also, I have some crocus in my lawn near the tree trunk, planted two years ago, and they are leafing out, while the crocus planted last fall, a mere three feet from that spot, is showing no sign. Mind you, these are two different kinds of crocus, so it might be that the more recent crocus is a late bloomer, but come on, these ARE crocus we are talking about, those same crocus that are known to pierce the snow on occasion.

So, to sum it up, the sunny side of my planting to the right of the porch is mostly awesome, with a few species that are totally absent, while the shaded spot to the left of the porch looks barren. I repeat, I planted two kinds of tulips on BOTH sides of the porch, and while both kinds are happy on the right side, none have come up on the left.


    Bookmark   March 31, 2011 at 12:09PM
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I do the garden for a local museum, and every year plant tulips for early spring, late winter color. The front of the museum faces south and is fully exposed, the rear is shaded by the building as well as some tall deciduous trees. I have learned that if I want all the tulips to bloom at once, I plant the rear two weeks ahead of the front. In this climate the tulips are chilled before planting. Al

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 9:01AM
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linnea56(z5 IL)

What you have are micro-climates in your yard. I have planted many of the same items in different areas. Those on the south side or full sun always come up sooner.

The first year after planting, though, bulbs often will be behind established ones. Crocuses I planted in 2009 are blooming now. Crocuses I planted in 2010 are up but not blooming yet.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 1:09PM
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Yay! Both your posts sound like music to my ears.

I thought that, since bulbs seem to really be stimulated more by light than by heat, it might be a good idea not to panic just yet.

In my case, the delay between the right and left sides is getting past two weeks and is now closer to three weeks. Hopefully, the left side bulbs will not delay much more.

About the crocus not growing at the same rate, I guess it comes down to them being a bit more shy the first year, probably because they are not as firmly rooted as they will probably be in subsequent years. Would you say this applies to prety much all spring bulbs?

Thank you both for the encouragement. I can finally look forward to a long, staggered spring bulb bloom!

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 9:48AM
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Of the crocus that seemed to be absent, I found one under the litter that poked through the soil. I have also found four tulips (in two different spots) on the shady left side. This confirms that bulbs on the shady side will in fact grow, but not at the same speed as the ones on the right side.

This is great news, because this means the total blooming period will be stretched by a few weeks, maybe even a month, so I will have a longer spring bloom than most of my neighbours, who have similar conditions on both sides of their entrance.

In short, I will have tulips when the neighbour's tulips will be long gone.

Thanks for your encouragement!

P.S.: I just found out that last year's daffodils (which will bloom for the second time this year) will have on average three times as many blooms. Of the few that are already lush and leafy, most have three flower stems with juicy buds rather than the one each they had last year. About 25% of them already have babies, too, because some of the new growth is a couple of inches further from the mother.

They are planted close enough together that they will form a uniform patch of happy flowers, but not close enough that I would have to lift them just yet. Not all daffodils are created equal and I know not all naturalize and increase over time, but this one is really fast. If you are looking for white daffodils that will increase rapidly without much help (they didn't get shrooms, I only added a bit of peat moss to their planting hole to sweeten the clay and only gave them one shooter of liquid fish emulsion after they were done blooming), look no further: Mount Hood daffodils are most satisfying. They are also huge (three inch diameter flowers, close to 1.5 foot high) compared to other daffs.

Oh, and these daffs were bought at the worst place for bulbs - at a big box renovation store! Just sayin'!

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 10:30AM
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