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INSTANT COLOR
JUST BECAUSE YOU DIDN'T GET THOSE TULIPS IN THE GROUND LAST FALL DOES NOT MEAN YOU CAN'T ADD SOME SPRINGTIME HUES TO YOUR WORLD

Crocuses are already blooming. The wind catches the sweet scent of hyacinths. Daffodils are pushing leaves out of the ground, and tulips will soon follow.

The splash of color signals an end to tugging on winter boots and bulky jackets. Heating bills will no longer exceed car payments. Finally, some relief for those suffering spring fever. Yet, it's this time of year that many get a bad case of "bulb regret."

All those blooming bulbs lead some to regret that they didn't take time in the fall to buy and plant bulbs. More serious cases include the guilt of having bought the bulbs but left them to waste away in a garage, shed or basement.

It's no use planting them now because bulbs need several weeks of cold weather before they'll bloom. And it's no use saving them for next fall because they will have dried out too much.

The best remedy is to get your color fix by planting the few plants that can withstand the cold temperatures the region will experience in the weeks to come: pansies and violets (both Viola), English daisies (Bellis perennis) and primrose (Primula). Once it gets a little warmer, add English ivy (Hedera helix) and Persian buttercups (Ranunculus) to the list.

Ranunculus is a bulb itself, but not hardy enough to be left in the ground over the winter in this region. Many nurseries have them ready to bloom with their large flowers looking like a cross between a rose and a peony.

"After a long winter, people are so hungry for plants and gardening," said Mike Weber, owner of Mike Weber Greenhouses on Old French Road in West Seneca, which carries all the plants mentioned above for between $2.50 and $6.

"The public demand for flowers in April is much stronger than in June or July. Come July, they're in swimming pools and cutting their grass," he said.

Primrose gets its name from the Latin primus, which means first. Along with pansies and violets, primrose is often one of the first plants to peak out from beneath melting snow.

It's not too cold to put these plants in the ground, but the soil may be too wet. Pick up and squeeze a handful. If it sticks together, it's too wet. It should crumble, like moist, dark chocolate cake. Working in the garden when the soil is too wet compacts it and can damage the roots of plants.

You should be able to put in some pansies, violets, English daisies or primrose near a patio or sidewalk by kneeling on a paved surface.

Plants bought at a locally owned nursery are accustomed to our temperatures. Those sold by national retailers may have come from a warmer climate or greenhouse and may not hold up as well.

Lisa Breidenstein, owner of Lisa's Greenhouses on Stony Brook Road in Aurora, put a pot of tulips grown in a greenhouse outside and didn't bring them in before the snowstorm last weekend.

"They're now mush, where my tulips that are coming up naturally will tolerate the snow on top of them," she said.

Lisa's Greenhouses makes containers using bulbs forced into blooming in greenhouses along with cold-tolerant plants such as pansies, violets and primrose. A 12-inch bowl costs $30 while a 24-inch metal caldron costs $90. Some customers bring the caldron back for Lisa's Greenhouses to fill with summer and then fall plants.

If the temperatures get too cold, customers can bring the containers indoors or put burlap or newspapers over the flowers.

It's best to discard the bulbs after they're done blooming, Breidenstein said. Being forced to bloom takes its toll, and they're less likely to bloom again than bulbs planted in the ground.

And besides, this fall you're going to remember to plant those bulbs. Right?
e-mail: lhaarlander@buffnews.com