Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How to plant spring flowering bulbs

There is nothing quite like a flush of color in the spring to wash away the winter blues.  Installing bulbs this fall is a great way to usher in spring next season. 

You can either hire a profession to install your bulbs or you can do it yourself. In either case, installing bulbs is a fairly inexpensive way to create great color and interest in the garden. Plan the areas where you would like color. Daffodils work well in naturalized areas such as in ground cover and ornamental beds. Daffodils will come back each year and have pretty good staying power in the garden compared with some other types of bulbs. Flowering early on in spring (late March to mid April) daffodils can fill in empty areas of the garden with bursts of yellow color.  Plant groupings or masses of daffodils to create a more naturalized appearance. 

After years of planting bulbs we have found that easier is better.  The text book methods of digging larger holes and planting groupings of bulbs will produce adequate results, but for the additional time to dig out the holes and add fertilizer, bone meal and soil amendments, we find that simply using an auger to drill holes and pop in the bulbs is just about if not more effective. 

When planting tulips we prefer a different approach.  We find that tulips don't have the longevity in the garden.  After the first year of flowing many tulips don't come back, either because they are consumed by hungry rodents or rot in the beds.  We therefore have treated tulips like annual flowers.  We plant tulips in high profile bed areas that are typically filled with summer annuals and when they're done flowering we pull the whole plant and bulb.  By the time the tulip is done blooming in mid May, waiting for the nutrients to return the bulb so you can pluck the stem/stalk from the bulb takes up to a month or more, which means you're left looking at stalks until sometimes mid June before you can empty out the bed and plant other flowers.  And then you're not even sure if you'll get results from the bulb the following year.  The relatively low cost of the tulip bulbs makes adding tulips a relatively inexpensive project. 

Step One: Prepare the planting bed by removing summer annuals and weeds. Rake and lightly grade the bed to ensure a consistent grade.  Edge the bed if necessary. 

Step Two: Layout where the tulips will be planted.  Auger/drill the holes to a depth of 5" to 6".  We typically will plant tulips approximately 8" to 10" apart.  The density of the planting will depend on how full you want the bed to look in the spring.  Figure 100 bulbs will cover about 60 to 70 square feet of bed area with 6" to 8" centers. 

Step Three: Install one bulb per hole.  Place at the bottom of the hole.  While the text books say to play the flat part down and the pointy side up, we've experimented and found that Mother Nature prevails and the bulb will still come up regardless of how you insert the bulb in the hole.  So we feel better we follow the text book instructions on this part of the installation.  (I think we can still hear our mother's reminding us to follow directions!). 

Planting daffodils is very similar, drill one hole per bulb, but group in masses of 5 to 10 bulbs per mass approximately 8" to 12" apart.  Plant daffodils in ground cover beds and mulched ornamental beds.  Because you'll leave the daffodils from one year to the next, plant them in beds that are not high profile where you can allow the leaves of the daffodils to dry out before cutting them back to the ground in mid-June.

Step Four: Rake over the bed and back fill the holes.  It is not necessary to press the soil into the holes or do anything special. 

Helpful tip: If the soil in the beds and lawn area are overly moist, lay down strips of  plywood

(1/2" plywood cut to 12" wide strips) to prevent rounding of the bed edges or creating muddy areas from all of the moving around you will be doing. 

You can buy bulbs from local garden centers or catalog companies.  I prefer to buy from wholesale catalog companies because we know the bulbs have been stored properly and are more likely to be successful compared with home center stores and some garden centers.  Bulb suppliers will run out of certain varieties early, so order your bulbs by early October for the best availability.


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