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Gardening Tips: Time to plant bulbs!

October 9, 2019 11:43 am

Late September to mid-October is the perfect time to plant spring flowering bulbs. A little effort now will reward you with beautiful flowers next spring. The soil temperature in most areas, except the mountain top, is still above 50 degrees, soil moisture is more than adequate and those condtions are ideal for root development on bulbs. Bulbs are almost foolproof unless something eats them, or they are planted in an area that is under water. My favorite fertilizer for bulbs is dried blood since this organic product is a natural critter repellent.

Spring flowering bulbs fall into two general categories; the major and minor bulbs. Major bulbs include tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, large alliums and Frittilaria (Crown Imperial) but there are also some dainty versions of daffodils. Minor bulbs include crocus, snowdrops, winter aconite and muscari. The large bulbs are usually planted individually using a bulb planter but the minor bulbs are most often planted in groups of 10 or more.

To prepare a planting bed for minor bulbs, thoroughly till the soil to a depth of six inches, working in a two inch layer of compost or peat moss. A good place to do this is where you previously grew a bed of annual flowers. Now that the spent annuals have been removed and composted, the soil should be in good shape and easy to work. Sprinkle a cup of dried blood and a cup of bonemeal for every ten square feet of bed (roughly three foot by three feet square) on top of the tilled soil and rake it in. Or you can substitute one cup of 5-10-10 fertilizer or four cups of composted manure. Plant the minor bulbs with the pointy side up about one inch deep in the soft soil. Press them firmly into the soil and make sure they are covered by about an inch of soil on top. Cover the bed with a two inch layer of mulch and you are done!

Next spring you can enjoy the bulbs in the spring and afterwards you can carefully tuck in some annuals or perennials around them when the blossoms fade. Select taller plants that will cover the fading bulbs foliage with their leaves as they grow. Summer or fall flowering perennials will not compete with the bulbs. This bulb/perennial bed should last for several years at least, with just minor maintenance.

The major bulbs (tulip, daffodil) are usually planted individually by digging a six inch deep or deeper planting hole. A bulb planter tool makes this an easy task, removing a core of soil without having to till the entire area. Major bulbs should be planted at a depth that is at least twice the width of the bulb. Therefore a two inch thick daffodil bulb should be planted with the tip of the bulb at least four inches below the soil surface. Make the planting hole about an inch or two deeper than you need and place a couple of inches of soft soil at the bottom. Put a tablespoon of 5-10-10 or one tablespoon each of bonemeal and dried blood in the bottom of the hole. Fill the hole and cover the planted bed with two inches of mulch. Remember to plant bulbs where they are within easy viewing of the house during nasty spring weather. Remember also that deer will eat tulip and most other bulb foliage as though it is spring candy in April and May! Daffodils are deer proof however and they should be planted somewhere where they may remain to spread. Tulips generally only persist for a few years before they need to be dug up and replanted.

Reach Bob Beyfuss at