Bulbs Gardening Planting

Spring-Flowering Bulbs: So Easy to Plant!

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Garden centers offer plenty of spring-flowering bulbs in the fall.

Tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, crocus and other spring-flowering bulbs: garden centers sell them by the shovelful each fall. And their culture is super easy. Dig, drop, done, as one promoters put it. But still, if it’s your first time, here are a few details about planting hardy bulbs you might find useful:

When?

Between September and November in the Northern Hemisphere, up to 2 weeks before the ground freezes definitively.

Where?

In rich and particularly well-drained soil. If your soil is heavy clay and/or stays soaking wet in spring, you won’t succeed with most bulbs. Instead, plant them in a raised flowerbed.

Where the spring sun shines. Of course, that can be a spot that is in full sun all year long, but since spring bulbs grow, flower and die back before trees have fully leafed out, you can also plant them under trees in places that are sunny in the spring, but shady during the summer.

Spring bulbs need a cool to cold winter and many won’t be happy in zones 9 and above. In Florida, for example, tulips have to be grown in refrigerators and planted out once the artificial cold has helped them root properly. On the other hand, most bulbs are very hardy and will thrive to hardiness zone 3, especially if you cover them with mulch in the very coldest regions.

How?

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Dig a hole 3 times as deep as the bulb is tall and space the bulbs at 3 times their diameter.

Dig a hole three times as deep as the bulb is tall. Make an exception for tulips: if you want them to return faithfully year after year, plant the bulb 1 foot (30 cm) deep. That will only work in well-drained soils, though. See Where? above for more details.

If your soil is on the heavy side, you can can lighten it by adding about one third compost to the soil you dig out.

It is easier to dig a large hole for several bulbs that individual holes for each bulb. For an attractive look, try 10 bulbs or more per hole in the case of larger bulbs, such as tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, and 15 to 25 bulbs per hole for small bulbs (crocus, muscaris, snowdrops, etc.).

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Add a bit of slow-release fertilizer to the soil.

Add bulb fertilizer or another slow-release organic fertilizer to the planting hole. Follow the dose recommended by the manufacturer. Also, adding a spoonful or two of mycorrhizae fungi (beneficial fungi) to the bottom of the planting hole can be useful if you’re working with soil that has been disturbed or has just been added.

Do not use bone meal as a fertilizer. Yes, I know, many garden centers still put it out with bulb displays as if it were the ideal bulb fertilizer, but they’re basing this on old-fashioned, nitrogen-rich bone meal, a product that hasn’t been available in generations. Bone meal as presently sold essentially gives nothing to your bulbs and attracts vermin that may dig up your bulbs. Read Bone Meal: Much Ado About Nothing for more information.

Place bulbs with the flat side down and the pointed side up. Some bulbs have no clear up side and down side: just plant them any which way: they’ll adjust themselves.

Space the bulbs about 3 times their diameter.

Fill the hole with soil.

Tamp down gently.

Water well.

You can cover the spot with mulch, but that isn’t absolutely necessary.

What About Squirrels?

Squirrels, chipmunks and voles like to dig up and carry off bulbs of tulips and crocus, especially if you marked the spot where they are planted with bone meal. To learn how to keep them away, read Protecting Bulbs from Squirrels.

You’re Done!

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Spring bulbs: plant in the fall for spectacular spring bloom!

There you go, you did it! Just leave them alone now: your job is done!

During the winter, your bulbs will grow underground – yes, even under the snow! –  in order to get ready for the flowering to come. As soon as the snow melts, up they come and soon they soon be in bloom. Ain’t nature wonderful?20160926b

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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