The Search Where to Get Your Bulbs

Making a successful, beautiful bulb display doesn't begin at planting time. It begins when you go bulb-shopping or bulb-swapping. Neighbors can be a great resource for extra bulbs when they're dividing their bulbs. But do be picky: Free bulbs aren't a bargain if they aren't strong and healthy.

Bulb quality can vary, so starting with good ones is important. Here's what to look for:

1 Appearance: A fresh, good-quality bulb is plump and clean, without obvious damage to its outer layers. Avoid bulbs with disfiguring dents or blemishes, which can let in rot-inducing bacteria. Bulbs may contain a small amount of green penicillin mold, which is rarely harmful. Some bulbs, like anemone and ranunculus, always look dried up.

1 Heft: Pick up a bulb and handle it for a moment. Then pick up a few others from the same basket or bin (of the same variety) and compare their weights. Bulbs that feel lightweight relative to their peers are likely to be dried out and not viable (they may even be last season's leftovers, for all you know). While you're at it, gently squeeze the bulb. A squishy texture indicates rot, but a good, firm feel means the bulb has sufficient moisture content.

1 Size: With bulbs, bigger is better. A larger bulb has more stored reserves and therefore can produce larger and more flowers on more substantial stems. You get what you pay for; you can get incredible deals on bulbs, but they may be too young and small to bloom.

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