Plant Spring Bulbs
by The Old Farmer’s Almanac staff
Take out your trowel and kneepads, it’s time to get those bulbs in the ground!
To guarantee color in the garden come spring, plant your bulbs now. It’s important to get bulbs in the ground by the end of fall to give them time to establish roots while the soil is still relatively warm. As spring approaches, they will put energy into flower development rather than root growth. Besides, shopping for bulbs at this time of year, when the pickin’s are plentiful, is fun!
Choosing Spring Bulbs
- Purchase from reputable garden stores, nurseries, or catalog vendors.
- Look for bulbs that have a heftiness to them—this indicates moisture and good health. (Picking bulbs is a bit like choosing produce.)
- Plan on crocuses, tulips, and daffodils—they are always sure bets and there are literally thousands from which to choose.
- Mix in a few less commonly used bulbs for greater interest. Good choices include: snowdrops, puschkinias, scillas, aconites, anemones, alliums, frittilarias, cyclamens, English wood hyacinths, and Spanish bluebells.
- Plant bulbs soon after purchasing them.
- Choose a time before the ground freezes. In the lower South, where you may not have a hard freeze, early November is a good time to plant.
- Select a site with lots of sun and well-drained soil.
- Dig holes large enough for a good number of bulbs. (For big splashes of color, plant 10 to 15 bulbs together in one hole.)
- Plant at the approximate depth recommended on the package—in general, three times the width of the bulb.
- Work a few inches of compost into the bottom of the hole as well as the soil you have dug out. Some gardeners also like to mix in green sand, bone meal, and Osmocote for enhanced nutrition.
- Arrange bulbs in a random order and spacing to create a more natural appearance.
- Pack down the soil to create a firm, even planting surface.
- Be sure to place the bulbs with the root side down.
- Protect your bulbs from snack-seeking critters by placing a cut piece of cage wire over them.
- Backfill with amended soil, firmly tamp down, and top with a thick layer of mulch.
Tools for the Task
There are a number of products on the market specifically designed for bulb planting.
When planting large numbers of bulbs in a single hole, a shovel works better than a trowel. There is the option of a long-handled Holland-made bulb planter, which has two 30-inch-long ash handles that allow you to make a hole and deposit the bulb, all in one step; this tool is effective in areas where soil is compacted. Bulb augers work well in similar situations. For smaller spaces and container planting, use a bulb dibble or a hand towel.
Tips for Spring Bouquets
To extend the vase life of your hard-earned bulb blooms, cut stems diagonally, then wrap the upper two-thirds of the flowers in a funnel of newspaper and stand them in cool water for 1 to 2 hours. Take them out and recut the stems. They will last another week.
Did You Know?
- If you dig up a tulip bulb in midsummer, it’s not the same bulb you planted in the fall—it’s an offspring. As the tulip blooms, the bulb divides to create the next generation.
- In 17th-century Holland, the newly propagated tulip was all the rage. So beloved were they that a handful of bulbs was worth about $44,000!
- Tulips are edible. During the Dutch famine of 1944 in WWII people resorted to eating them.