Fall is the time to think about Spring – at least for your garden! Planting spring-blooming bulbs now is the surest way to ensure a beautiful garden display when you most need it at the end of our dreary winters. And, if you spend winters in the south, coming north at the end of winter to a stunning array of spring blossoms makes your homecoming that much sweeter…
Here are some tips for planting bulbs with success and satisfaction:
- Select quality bulbs: Smart bulb planting starts at the garden center (think Fowler’s!) with high-quality bulbs. Look for those that are plump and firm. It’s typically best to avoid bulbs that are soft and mushy or have mold growing on them. Also look for big bulbs; the bigger they are, the more they generally bloom compared to smaller bulbs of the same variety.
- Pick the right spot: Even healthy bulbs will fail if they’re planted in the wrong spot. Most bulbs do best in full sun (at least 6 hours of direct sun a day) and well-drained soil. Check out our Plant Encyclopedia to learn more if you’re not sure what conditions your bulbs need.
- Get the timing right: Spring-blooming bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils should be planted in September or October, when the soil temperatures have cooled. Summer-blooming beauties such as dahlia and gladiolus are best planted in the spring, after all danger of frost has passed.
- Plant Them Deep Enough: Not sure how deep to plant your bulbs? You’re not alone — it’s a very common question for gardeners. Generally, dig a hole two to three times deeper than the bulb is tall. So if you have a 3-inch-tall bulb, dig a hole 6 to 9 inches deep. There are always exceptions, so check the planting directions that come with the bulbs for more information.
- Place Them Pointy Side Up: The next most common bulb-planting question is “How in the heck do I know which side is up?” If the bulb has a pointed end, that’s usually the side that faces up. If you don’t see a pointy side, look for where the roots come out — that end goes down.
- Give Them Good Soil: Like most plants, bulbs appreciate well-drained soil rich in organic matter. So mix compost into your bulbs’ planting holes to ensure good blooming. This is especially important if you have heavy clay soil or ground that stays wet.
- Stop Weeds: Besides being just plain ugly, weeds steal nutrients from the soil and may attract insects or disease. The easiest way to prevent weeds from being an issue is to spread 2 to 3 inches of mulch over the soil. Your bulbs will easily push up through it, but most weed seeds won’t.
- Water Well: Bulbs are plants, too, so they appreciate a good drink after you plant them. This will encourage them to send out roots and become established more quickly. A good watering will eliminate air pockets in the soil that could cause your bulbs to dry out, too.
- Protect Your Investment: Critters such as squirrels love digging up freshly planted bulbs. Spread a layer of mulch to hide your bulb holes. If that doesn’t help, weigh down a piece of mesh or chicken wire over the soil to keep critters from digging. It should be safe to remove the protective mesh or wire after the bulbs start to sprout out of the ground.
- Make it Easy: If you live in a cold-winter climate and you want to save your tender summer bulbs, you’ll need to store them in a frost-free place over the winter. An easy way to do this is to plant the bulbs in containers, then sink those containers in the ground. At the end of the season, simply dig up the containers and store them in a garage, basement, or shed that stays about 40 to 55 degrees.
- Design Idea – Plant in Groups: Most bulbs look best when planted in big, irregular groupings (the more bulbs, the bigger the impact) instead of straight rows. So try tossing them onto the ground and plant them where they fall — it’s fine if some bulbs end up being a little closer to each other than the recommended spacing. It adds to the natural look.
- Design Idea – Layer Perennial Bulbs: For a dramatic show of spring-flowering bulbs, plant smaller perennial species such as crocus or scilla over bigger bulbs such as daffodils, tulips, and lilies. That way you’ll get twice the color in the same space.
- Design Idea – Try Them in Containers: Most bulbs do just as well in containers as they do in the ground. Create pots of spring joy with your favorite tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths by sinking them in the ground so they get winter cold or storing the containers in a cold garage or storage shed. When the bulbs fade, replace them with warm-weather favorites such as callas, cannas, or caladiums for summer-long beauty.
- Design Idea – Naturalize Spring Bulbs: Naturalizing early spring bulbs in your lawn is a fun way to add a boost of color to your landscape. Siberian squill, snow crocus, and snowdrops bloom and finish before your grass needs its first mowing. So you can plant them for carefree color. Note: If you grow spring bulbs in your lawn, avoid using any herbicides until the bulbs have gone completely dormant.
Pink Tulips: Kim DeCamp, GC of Lexington
GCA Daffodils: Natasha Hopkinson, Woodside-Atherton GC
Spring Bulbs: Pamela McGuire, Little GC of Rye
Flower Shop: Cindy Willis, Southampton GC
Stockholm Lilies: Suellen White, GC of Denver