Bulbs Mulching

Bulbs and Mulch: A Great Combo!

Bulbs (here, hyacinths) easily push up through mulch. Photo: nittygrittydirtman.com

Question: I want to plant many bulbs in my flower bed this fall. It’s covered with mulch and I’m afraid the mulch will prevent the bulbs from growing. Can you plant bulbs in a mulched bed without them being smothered? If so, how do you do it?


Answer: Mulch and bulbs actually go very well together. 

Bulbs push their way right up through mulch. Ill.: http://www.mulchwholesalers.com, concretegarden.ca & http://www.turpinlandscapedesign.com, montage: laidbackgardener.com

Imagine: bulbs are planted fairly deep in the soil, yet their leaves easily manage to pierce the soil, often dense and heavy. Do you think a mulch, usually light and fairly fluffy, would stop such determined plants? Bulbs will easily grow through 4 inches (10 cm) or even more of mulch as if it weren’t there. 

Bulbs do this in the wild too, pushing their way up into the light, first through the soil, then the plant litter that covers the ground.

Perennials do just the same thing, by the way. They die to the ground in winter, then push their way up through any mulch present in the spring. 

So, proceed as follows:

Temporarily move the mulch from the spots where you want to plant bulbs. Plant them at the recommended depth (about three times the height of the bulb), add a little mycorrhizal inoculant, cover them with soil, replace the mulch, and water well. It couldn’t be simpler!

A Reminder

The purpose of a mulch is not to smother established weeds: they too will pass right through the mulch. What the mulch does is to prevent the germination of weed seeds. (And will also prevent bulbs and perennials from self-sowing, by the way.) That’s why you always have to thoroughly weed a flower bed before applying mulch: if any perennial weeds remain in the soil, they’ll just grow right up through the mulch. 

So think of it this way: mulch is not a weed smotherer, it’s an anti-germinator. And it won’t harm your bulbs!

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.

1 comment on “Bulbs and Mulch: A Great Combo!

  1. Mulch is comparable to a thick layer of leaf litter, which many bulbs expect to accumulate through autumn and winter in the wild.

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