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
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.