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6:40 AM Fri, Nov. 16th

Spring-planted flower bulbs are the superstars of the garden

It's official: It's spring. Lilac buds are about to burst open, everything else is in bloom at the garden center, and I just gave every department manager the go ahead to bring in summer-loving plants. Fall plantings of spring bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and hyacinths get a lot of attention this time of year, but these are only the first round in a succession of flowering bulbs. Spring-planted bulbs are among the superstar performers in mountain gardens, and now is the time to plant them.

Spring-planted bulbs are planted now when the soil is warm enough to stimulate instantaneous growth. No need to wait through four wintry months for these beauties to shine as the season's most valued celebrity guests.

I've grown flamboyant spring-planted bulbs in each of the tri-cities. My favorites are lilies, dahlias, begonias, cannas, caladiums, gladioli, elephant ears, pineapple plants and agapanthus. These garden treasures fill in the landscape with splashes of color at critical times during our long bloom season. They're perfect partners with other flowers and blooming shrubs, bringing a tropical look of abundance to the garden.

I enjoy bulbs so much that I hand pick most of the varieties carried at the garden center. I want to be sure to offer local gardeners top quality bulbs with vivid tropical colors, wind resistance and sun-loving bloomers that are sure to have showy flowers. Every garden center will be loaded with bulbs for the next six weeks. No matter where you buy them they should all come with a sign that says "Grow these ­ and give in!" because once you've had them in your garden, you'll be hooked and you'll never be satisfied without them! They really are that easy, that dependable and that pretty.

My favorite planting places for these bulbs are in raised beds, at the entrance of the house, English border gardens, and in tree wells. Some of the most dramatic displays have been from bulbs planted in tree wells under the drip emitters of a newly planted flowering tree.

Purple leaf plums are blooming pink right now, but I think they've been overused in too many neighborhoods. Flowering cherry trees would be a welcome change. Their pink flowers dangle in clusters from branches that range in color from light red to a rich mountain gray. You'll find the best selections in bloom right now at garden centers.

All cherry trees grow well at our mile high altitude, but for landscapes that don't call for fruit trees, remember that ornamental flowering cherries put on no fruits. When the blooms are spent, the wind simply blows away the petals. The flowers are much larger and more ornate than the plums, with super dark foliage through summer and the most magnificent orange fall colors. Even the bark is interesting year round.

Wind is no problem for this mountain savvy 30-foot high tree. I would classify this one as a low to moderate water user in clay soils. When I gardened in the thick clays of Prescott Valley, I delivered a deep soak with each watering once every 7 to 10 days. That was plenty of water for a well-rooted tree.

When planting a flowering tree remember to amend our native soils with plenty of mulch to keep the soil loose and to encourage root growth. Feed newly planted bulbs and trees with "Start-N-Grow" slow-release plant food and then water each new plant or bulb with liquid "Root Stimulator." Remember that these three products are a must for all mountain gardening.

If you're looking for a tree to bring even more drama to your landscape, choose a weeping cherry. Then plant a shorter variety of dahlia bulb in the soil that is already loose and amended in the tree well. You will have created a garden highlight with beauty and fragrance that will last all season long.

Remember that every Wednesday is the day to "meet the Daily Courier's garden guy" at Watters Garden Center. Bring along your garden questions, samples and problems, and we can discuss them face-to-face. Have good garden column ideas? Wednesday is the perfect time to share them and to request specific garden topics for the column. If you prefer, shoot me an e-mail at watters@cableone.net, I love to hear from "Garden Guy" readers.

Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.