Bulb Planting 101
Spring flowering bulbs are some of the most rewarding plants you can grow. All it takes is a little elbow grease on the front end and patience. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind when you head out into the garden this fall. These tips will work for any type of spring flowering bulb you plant – daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, you name it!
What to Do When You Bring Your Bulbs Home
If you have purchased your bulbs through a mail order source open the box of bulbs as soon as it arrives. Inspect your order to be sure that all bulbs on the list are there and in good condition. They should be firm and mold free.
If you cannot plant right away keep the bulbs in a cool, dry place, such as a garage, or basement. Warmth and moisture will signal the bulbs to start growing. Check on them occasionally to be sure they aren't getting moldy or soft.
When to Plant
Spring flowering bulbs can be planted anytime in the fall after temperatures cool down, but before the ground freezes. Your bulbs need to establish strong root systems before winter sets in.
If you live in a warm climate where air temperatures don't fall below freezing, bulbs, with the exception of daffodils, will require some pre-cooling by being stored in a refrigerator before planting. About 6 to 8 weeks will do the trick, but they can stay in the refrigerator longer if necessary. Remove any fruit (especially apples) in the refrigerator. The ethylene gas given off by ripening fruit will kill the flower inside the bulb.
Plant bulbs in an area that drains well. Most bulbs need from 4 to 6 hours of sunlight each day, some varieties (Spanish bluebells and daffodils) are more shade tolerant than others. When planting under trees select shade tolerant varieties and site them at the drip line rather than right under the tree.
If the bulbs are going to come back year after year, like daffodils, try to find a place where they won't be disturbed later in the season and where it won't be a bother to allow the foliage to die back naturally after they flower.
Spring flowering bulbs appreciate well-drained, humus rich soils. Add a little compost or bagged humus to the bottom of the planting hole as well as some synthetic bulb fertilizer. I prefer a synthetic product to the traditional bone meal because it doesn’t attract squirrels and rodents.
The rule of thumb is to plant bulbs at a depth that is 3 times their height. For example, if a daffodil bulb is approximately 2-inches tall, dig a hole 6-inches deep. Smaller bulbs such as miniature daffodils are generally planted 3- to 5-inches deep. You will want to plant the big ones like Allium gigantium ‘Globemaster’ 6- to 8-inches deep. Once covered with soil, a 2-inch thick layer of mulch is optional to help retain moisture and keep the bulbs cool. Just remember that if you do plan to add mulch, factor it into your planting depth.
When planting any type of bulb, position it so that the peaked end points up. That's where flower stems will emerge. The flatter, usually larger end goes at the bottom of the planting hole.
Protecting from Squirrels and Rodents
To protect your bulbs from rodents burrowing underground and eating them, create a chicken wire basket that you can place in the hole dug for the bulb. Line the bottom with the wire and bend up the sides about 2 inches. Once the basket is in place cover the bottom with a blend of 50-50 compost and topsoil, add a little bulb fertilizer and then drop in the bulb. Fill in the hole with the remaining soil.
If you have a problem with dogs, squirrels or other animals digging into your bulb plantings, you can place a piece of chicken wire over the top of the entire bed space and hide it with mulch. Just remember to remove the wire before the bulbs begin to emerge in the spring.
Early Emerging Foliage
Sometimes warm winter weather causes bulb foliage to begin emerging early. Bulbs are equipped with a certain amount of anti-freeze that can help them get through cold so the leaves should be okay. The only time to be concerned is once the flower has completely opened. If it looks like that may happen, my best advice if to cut a bouquet and enjoy the blooms in the house.
After Bloom Care
If you want the bulbs to bloom again the following year, the name of the game is to keep the leaves green as long as possible. This gives the foliage time to recharge the bulb for next year's blooms. For the best results, wait about eight weeks after the blooms have faded to remove the foliage. In areas where tulips are not perennial you can remove the bulbs as soon as the flowers fade.