Bulb gardening can be easy and very rewarding! If planted properly, some bulbs will give you many years of enjoyment. Bulbs that we plant in the fall will emerge in the spring with very little extra effort on our part. Unfortunately, when planting bulbs the smallest mistake can lead to a garden full of duds, but it is easy to avoid making those little mistakes.
Simple things to remember when planting:
- Always plant bulbs in areas with good drainage. Planting bulbs in well-drained soil is vital and the most important instruction we can give you.
- Don’t use any strong commercial fertilizer or fresh manure when planting bulbs.
- Always cut as little foliage as possible when cutting flowers from your bulbous plants. The leaves and foliage are essential for storing food for next year’s blooming.
- Always let the foliage die back on its own in the garden before trimming it back or digging up the bulbs. Do not trim back healthy green foliage or the bulb will not perform well next year. Therefore, you should plant them in a way that annuals and perennials can be planted around them to hide the withering leaves.
- Never dry bulbs in the sun, always in the shade in a well-ventilated area.
- Always store bulbs in a dry, well-ventilated area to prevent mould or mildew. It’s best to store them in a paper bag or a cardboard box so that they can breathe.
It is important to plant at the proper depth. See our section on Bulb Planting Depths to ensure you’re planting at the right depth for the type of bulb you have chosen. Remnants of roots on the bottom of the bulb should tell you which side of the bulb points down. If you see no sign of root remnants, plant the bulb so that the most pointed narrow part points up. If in doubt, plant the bulb on its side- the stem will know which way is up. You can plant bulbs individually by using a hand trowel or bulb planter. If you are planting many bulbs, dig one big trench or hole and place the bulbs in the bottom.
Most bulbs require well-drained soil. Bulbs will rot in soggy, overly wet ground. If you have heavy clay soil you should add coarse sand to amend the soil before planting bulbs. Before planting your bulbs, mix a granular, complete fertilizer into the soil in the bottom of the hole, then add a little more soil so that the bulb itself doesn’t come in contact with the fertilizer granules. You can find appropriate bulb fertilizers in nurseries and garden centers. After planting the bulbs, water them thoroughly.
The planting method and type of bulb you choose can depend on the design style you want to achieve: natural or formal. Naturalizing refers to the ability of some bulbs to come back year after year. Some species of tulips are good naturalizers, as are some crocus and many daffodils, just to name a few. In naturalistic design, you do your best to imitate a natural planting for a particular type bulb, and you choose bulbs that go on to naturalize on their own, thereby making the planting look more natural year after year. If you are naturalizing in grass, you can’t cut the grass until the leaves have died back naturally. In formal design, it’s unlikely you’d need or want bulbs that come back every year. Also, you may want to plant in carefully excavated beds to be sure that bloom times are identical or to make sure that something is blooming all the time. Bulbs are labelled for flowering times, so you can pick them to flower at the same times or to stagger blooming times for continuous flowers.
It can be pretty perplexing when the bulbs you planted last fall make just a meagre showing in the spring. Possibilities for this include inferior bulb quality or improper planting, but another thing to consider is animals. Chipmunks, voles, mice, deer, woodchucks, squirrels, and other animals forage for and feast on newly planted bulbs.
To protect your bulbs from hungry animals try the following:
- Use animal repellents to keep critters at bay. See the section All About Deer for additional suggestions regarding repellents.
- Daffodils and snowdrops often naturalize well because most animals usually leave these bulbs alone
- Use traps, barriers, or scare tactics.
With these tips in mind, you’re ready to plant your bulbs. It will be spring before you know it and your TLC will be well received by your newly blooming bulbs. Happy planting!