Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

The Bulb Planter: A Garden Tool You’ll Never Use

20150918AFall is the season for planting spring-flowering bulbs, but don’t feel tempted to buy a bulb planter to help you plant them. This is the kind of tool you try once, then put aside, never to use again.

The idea with this tool is to push down on the soil, twisting right and left, thus boring a hole into the ground of the required depth, then you pull out a plug of earth. Next drop the bulb in the hole and put the plug back in. Presto, you’re done! It certainly sounds easy enough.

In actual fact, though, it rarely releases the plug on its own. You need to push it free or bang the tool on the ground, with the result that the plug falls apart and you usually end up using your hands to fill in the hole. Even spring-loaded models, supposedly designed specifically to release the plug easily, rarely do so without some extra effort.

And that’s not the only problem. The resulting hole is only wide enough for one medium size bulb, say a tulip, a hyacinth or a daffodil. It’s too wide for crocuses, squills, snowdrops, etc. and too narrow for crown imperials (Fritillaria imperialis). I’ve yet to see a bulb planter with an adjustable diameter.

Plus bulbous plants are generally too small to make much of an effect if planted alone: they need to be planted in groups. Try planting 20 tulip bulbs with a bulb planter and you’ll see: it requires a lot of effort.

Also, the current recommendation for tulip bulbs is to plant them extra deep, 12 inches (30 cm) down. This not only puts them out of the reach of squirrels, it helps perennialize them. Yet the average bulb planter is only about 6 inches (15 cm) high. So you’d have to drill a second hole on the bottom of the first one it get it right.

In my experience, it is far easier to use a simple garden shovel, which you already own, I’m sure, to dig a larger hole in which to place several to many bulbs at once. With a shovel, you can easily adjust the depth as required. For any precision planting, like when you’re planting bulbs in between established plants, a garden trowel does an equally good job and requires less effort than a bulb planter. And you probably already own one as well.

So, at least in my experience, this is one tool the average gardener really can live without!

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, laidbackgardener.blog will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

3 comments on “The Bulb Planter: A Garden Tool You’ll Never Use

  1. So glad to read this! I was debating running to the store to buy a bulb planter and now I won’t. 🙂 Thanks!

  2. I bought one today and couldn’t agree more. I wish I’d read this before I bothered!

    • I love my bulb planter. It is indispensable for “nauturalizing” daffodils and bulbs in the lawn. Your method would not work well, and would require a lot of lawn repairs!

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