You’ll thank yourself for thinking ahead when planting spring flowering bulbs.
We’ve become wired for instant gratification. All of us. 24-hour news, Google answers to any question (will dog hair sprinkled around my hostas keep rabbits from eating them? Not ours!) overnight shipping and Netflix. As things get faster, we get slower at recognizing when we need a little down time.
And sometimes the only cure for an always-on world is the slow therapy of being outside and letting something grow. Bulbs take their own time, there’s no rush delivery or skipping ahead. Innovation was built into bulbs and the best thing you can do is get them in the ground and let them do their job. It only takes 30-60 minutes to plant a dozen, but who’s counting? Put on your headphones (or not) and get lost in your own little world.
When spring rolls around, you may have forgotten you planted them. Snow and ice can do that to a person. But then the first hyacinth or crocus busts through a thin layer of ice and you are a hero. Because everyone knows you just signaled the start to spring, single-handedly.
Here’s how easy it is to make it happen:
1. Choose healthy bulbs. Avoid bulbs that are dry and withered, spongy or moldy. In general, the larger the bulb for its type, the more flowers.
2. Choose an appropriate location. Most flowering bulbs prefer full sun, but that can be almost anywhere in the spring before trees leaf out. So don’t overlook a spot that seems perfect just because it’s a bit shady in fall. Woodland bulbs (Anemone Nemorosa [Woodland Anemone], Arisaema [Jack-in-the-Pulpit], Erythronium [Dog’s Tooth Violets], Galanthus [Snowdrops], and Trillium) prefer a bit of cool shade.
A well-drained soil will prevent bulbs from rotting in cool weather.
3. Plant early enough to give your bulbs time to grow roots before it freezes. Ideally plant before mid-November to give your bulbs more time to begin growing healthy roots.
4. Pointed side up. The pointed end is the stem. You may even be able to see some shriveled roots on the flatter side. If you can’t really tell, don’t worry about it. The stem will find its way sooner or later.
5. Plant at depth of 3 times their diameter. Small bulbs can be planted to a depth of 3-4 inches. For a larger bulb like daffodils, plant about 6-8 inches deep.
6. Encourage strong root growth. Mix some bone meal or Elements into the soil at the bottom of the hole when you plant. This will encourage strong root growth. You can also mix in some water-soluble fertilizer, but it’s not necessary if you’ve already amended your soil.
7. Keep them safe. If rodents tend to eat your bulbs, try sprinkling some red pepper in the planting hole. Or better yet, plant your bulbs in a hardware cloth ‘cage.’ The roots and stems grow through, but the rodents can’t get to the bulbs. Make it easy on yourself and make your cage large enough to plant at least a dozen bulbs. Or stick with daffodils, which most rodents and animals will avoid.
8. Top them off. Replace the soil on top of the bulbs, then water generously to help them settle and to close any air pockets. You only need to water your bulbs through fall and winter if you’re having a particularly dry season.
» For a natural effect: Bulbs look best in clumps or drifts. Either dig a large area and plant several bulbs at once or simply toss the bulbs into the air and dig holes to plant where they fall. You’ll be surprised how well this actually works at achieving a natural look.
» Mark your plantings: To make sure you don’t disturb bulbs by trying to plant something else in the same spot, mark where and what you have planted.
» Spring care: When your bulbs have finished flowering, let the foliage dieback naturally. Resist the temptation to cut it back while still green, but floppy. The bulb needs this time to photosynthesize and make food reserves to produce next year’s flowers. When dried and spent, cut stalks to ground level.
» To Divide Bulbs: Many bulbs will spread and increase, making the original planting overcrowded. If your bulbs aren’t flowering as much as they used to, this is probably the case. If you wish to move or divide your flowering bulbs, the safest time is then they enter their dormant period. This is usually just after the foliage completely dies back. Dormancy is brief; even though nothing is happening above ground, so don’t put this task off.