Bulbs Gardening Gardening tools

My New Favorite Bulb-Planting Tool

ProPlugger tool: just punch a hole and plant! Source: www.proplugger.com

I’m an inveterate bulb planter. I just can’t help myself! Each fall, I end up ordering hundreds of spring-flowering bulbs (no, that is not an exaggeration) and I have to find places to plant them.

Twenty years ago, when I was in the habit of adding a new flower bed or increasing the size of an older one every year, that was easy. I had plenty of space! So, I planted bulbs with a simple shovel: dig big hole, drop in plenty of bulbs, cover. It was a snap! But I’ve since run out of expandable garden space: pretty much my entire yard, from the street to the back fence, is one vast flower and shrub bed/edible landscape. There are no longer any large open spaces where I can dig big holes and drop in tons of bulbs. I need to “tuck them” into spaces between other plants.

That means a shovel is now essentially useless. I need a tool where I can get at narrow spaces without too much effort.

I Hate Bulb Planters

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Bulb planters are usually made of cheap sheet metal, are awkward to use and short-lived. They seem designed to fail! Source: www.lowes.com

I’ve tried bulb planters and they’re too much work. You need to be down on your knees to plant (and my aging body no longer appreciates that) and twisting the planter back and forth, always with the same wrist (unless you’re ambidextrous) is very tiring. Plus, they always seem to be made of thin sheet metal, with the result that the tines quickly become bent and twisted, rendering the whole tool useless.

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Sure you can plant bulbs with a garden trowel, but you have to get down on your hands and knees to do so. Source: cheshamconnect.org

Honestly, I find planting bulbs with a garden trowel easier than using a bulb planter. But I still kept finding myself either down on my aching knees or sitting precariously on a movable bench that inevitably ends up flattening plants I don’t want to flatten. There had to be a better way!

Last Year’s Discovery

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The ProPlugger: a solid metal tube with a handlebar and foot rests. Source: www.proplugger.com

So, I went looking for a better bulb planting tool … and I’ve found it. Called the ProPlugger 5-in-one Planting Tool (from here on in, I’ll just call it “the ProPlugger”), it’s essentially a thick metal tube with a T-handle on the top and a double foot rest below. You use it standing up: no bending, no kneeling!

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Press, twist, lift. Up to twelve plugs of soil will lodge inside the tool, so you can drill hole after hole. Source: www.proplugger.com.

You simply press it into the ground, pushing down with your foot on the foot rest for extra weight if needed, twist a bit and lift: out comes a plug of earth about 2 1/8 inches (5.4 cm) in diameter. Then dig another hole, and another: the soil gets stored inside the tool as you work, enabling you to dig over a dozen planting holes, one right after another.

You’ll discover the ProPlugger slices through small and even medium roots, always abundant in my garden. I was able to get right up close to shrubs and perennials while doing little damage. However, it won’t cut through big roots, nor through rocks, so, as with any tight planting, sometimes you still have to move the planting hole a bit.

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Empty the tube from time to time. Source: www.proplugger.com.

When the tube is full or you’ve dug enough holes for your needs, invert the tool near where you need the soil and it will fall out. You can then break up the soil if it’s compacted, add amendments if you judge that necessary, etc.

One hint: any planting tool will work best in soil that is slightly moist, so if conditions are very dry, consider watering the area a day or two before you plant.
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You can add fertilizer without even having to bend down. Source: www.proplugger.com.

If you need to add fertilizer or mycorrhizal fungi before planting, just position the tool over the hole and drop it in. Couldn’t be easier!

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Just drop a bulb in and let it fall. All that’s left is to cover it with soil. Source: www.proplugger.com.

Rather then bend down to plant the bulbs, use the tool as a planting guide. Insert the far end into the hole and drop a bulb in, pointy side up. Most of the time it will drop straight down into the hole, staying in the right position. However, even if it ends up on its side or even upside down, don’t sweat it: the bulb will still grow and bloom.

To finish, fill the hole with soil. I found that, if I’d emptied the soil near the holes, I could simply push it into place with my shoe or the ProPlugger, but sometimes I did need to use a shovel to get it where I wanted it.

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With the 4-inch depth ring on, as above, the hole dug will be 4 inches (10 cm) deep. Source: www.proplugger.com.

I tried the ProPlugger last year (I had a bushel of 300 daffodil bulbs to plant, among others) and it worked like a charm. There are even depth rings set at 2 and 4 inches (5 and 10 cm) that you can add to the tool so it won’t dig as deeply. They’re useful for smaller bulbs. Without an added ring, it will dig a 6-inch (15 cm) hole, ideal for most larger bulbs.

I must point out I especially liked the sturdy construction of the ProPlugger. It’s not simply cut out of flimsy sheet metal like so many tools these days. It looks like it will last pretty much forever!

Bulbs and Beyond

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You can use the ProPlugger to move plugs of lawn grass or groundcovers, among other uses. Source: www.proplugger.com.

Although I got the ProPlugger for planting bulbs, it was originally designed for removing weeds like dandelions, plus you can use it for transplanting plugs of lawn or groundcover or for planting annuals. It’s great for taking soil samples too. I recently used it to move 30 plugs of dwarf Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum humile), a ground cover I would otherwise have had to dig up leaving large holes and it worked like a charm!

If the ProPlugger isn’t available in a local store, you can order it directly from the designer-manufacturer at ProPlugger or at other on-line sources, like Amazon or eBay. (Check the prices before buying: they vary widely!) It’s not inexpensive, but if you have hundreds of bulbs to plant every year, you’ll almost certainly find it worth the expense.

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 “My New Favorite Bulb-Planting Tool

  1. christine leland

    Just purchased one. Sounds like the bees knees!

  2. I’ve had a ProPlugger for a couple of years now, and it does excel at planting bulbs in close quarters.

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