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The Power of Positive Bulb Planting

If you’re a flower person, you’ll do just about anything to extend the colorful season to enjoy plants in bloom and a riot of color in your gardens. Doing any work now may sound odd, seeing that this is the start of the gloomy season of late fall, when most plants have died back, skies are grey, and the hint of winter is in the air.

But this is the best time to plant bulbs!

monique with a sack of bulbsThat’s right. When you’re cold, the squirrels are cold and done foraging for nuts and seeds, and even the top layer of ground is getting a little stiff and cold, that’s exactly when you want to be out in your garden. We start planting after Halloween with a goal to finish by Thanksgiving. BUT…I have planted well after the holiday season. I have even planted bulbs in January!! So wintertime still works to plant if you can get a shovel in the ground. Remember – you are planting them as a storage method. They are going in, and going to sleep in the cold soil. THEN, when the spring comes, the frost thaws, the moisture returns, and the soils warm up, that is when they start growing.

While bulb planting is certainly not an exercise in instant gratification, it will brighten your days much earlier next season as some flowers start blooming as early as April 1st and as late as June 1st. It is worth a chilly day in the garden for all the spring glory to come.  

Start by getting good bulbs. Many of the box stores stock the lowest grade and smallest size bulbs, often called “standard,” and can yield less than satisfactory results. If you buy from a better garden center or online – some place that might get their bulbs directly from Holland -- you can get top size bulbs. They may cost a little more, but the results are a lot better, serving up big, beautiful blooms. 

There’s no magic to planting bulbs – in fact, it’s easier than a lot of people think:

  1. Dig a nice even hole, using a good shovel. Set the shovel spade almost vertically, and dig around the outside of your hole so you have nice straight sides, loosening soil as you go before you actually shovel it out. This is better for your back!! Once your soil is out – make a flat bottom to the hole so you are able to set up your bulbs in a nice orderly fashion. 
  • A word on depth – as in the three bears – not too deep, not to shallow – plant them JUST RIGHT. So how do you know?
  • Read the package to start – and then don’t skimp. What I see is people interpreting 6 inches deep to mean that the bottom of the hole is six inches which leaves the top of the bulb (when it is a big one) as little as two inches below the top of the soil.
  • Shoot for the middle to top of the bulb being at the required depth. This protects the bulbs from starting to grow too early, keeps them a “little more” out of reach from critters – including your dog. AND ensures that they have the ability to stay standing tall and strong when they emerge.

planting bulbs with professional tips
Planting bulbs using professional planting tips.

  1. The ideal soil is a well-drained, slightly sandy soil that keeps your bulbs from rotting. If your soil feels too wet – either choose another spot – or work in some sand. Put it in the back fill soil and in the base of the hole. Loosen the soil in the bottom of the hole – make it good and flat - and add a handful of good fertilizer (here at The Garden Continuum we use Roots Healthy Start). 
  • Why a flat bottom is better – okay – if you have a pointy-bottomed hole – your bulbs can’t be set evenly – so they tip inward when you set them up. This makes for messiness underground. Go for a neat hole with a flat bottom and vertical sides – you’ll be able to set up more bulbs that way.
  1. Plant bulbs in groups for maximum effect and color – and don’t be afraid to group them fairly tightly together in the hole, almost touching. When they bloom, they’ll spill out against each other in a bouquet-like effect. 
  • Okay – myth of touching – yes, you are best off NOT to have your bulbs touching. That is because if one starts rotting, it won’t infect its neighbors. But really, that’s about it. SO, buy Top Size healthy bulbs. Don’t use any squishy or moldy bulbs. Set them up snug with a little space – hence the neat hole. And you are golden.
  1. Gently cover the bulbs with the soil from the hole, pack it down gently but fairly firmly (no need to stamp on it) and scrape any mulch back over it from when you began digging your hole. 
  • Don’t skip the packing down and clean-up step. Always leave your garden neat – smooth out the soil, reapply the mulch you pulled off BEFORE you dug the hole, and in true TGC fashion…get rid of all your footprints!
  1. That’s it! Now just wait ‘til spring. 
  • BONUS TIP ONE – IF you are planting tulips – beware – the critters love them, so if you plant nice and late, they will miss them this fall. BUT come spring, they may find a tasty salad emerging. A little Irish Spring or strongly perfumed soap – shaved with a cheese grater – as those tender bulbs emerge will keep them away. Don’t delay though – they’ll find them in a flash is you drop your guard!! Trust me…it is worth the effort to have tulips!!
  • BONUS TIP TWO – Bulbs that are less likely to be bothered by deer or rabbits – Daffodils & Narcissi (all types – and there are amazing varieties out there – not just yellow), Camassia (look them up they are stunning), Hyacynths (Grape and Bedding), Fritillaria, Scilla, Botanical tulips, and Allium.

Do your planting for the greater good.

By this I mean, now that you know how easy it is to plant bulbs, consider rounding up some friends, and don’t forget your kids, and planting bulbs in public places that could use a splash of color in the spring. It’s good for your soul, an awesome experience for children and great for the community.

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Volunteers make easy work of planting 1500 bulbs

If you’ve been following this blog, you may remember our story about the Straw Hat Park in Medfield – a beautiful little pocket park that was “reclaimed” from a piece of town-owned property that had fallen into disuse. We were able to convince the town to buy 1500 bulbs with the promise that we would get volunteers to plant them for free.

Using the very same tips I just gave you, 15 sets of volunteer hands were able to plant all those bulbs in a little under two hours! Next spring, the entire community will reap the benefits of this little labor of love when all those flowers burst forth in all their glory.

Now that’s the power of positive planting.

Plus, volunteer planting days usually come with free coffee (thanks Starbucks!) and baked goods (thanks Jean Mineo)!

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Enjoying a delicious snack mid-planting!

Tweetable Tip: Bulbs are best planted when the weather has turned chilly and winter is in the air! http://ctt.ec/bH4eA+

Thinking about selecting the best plants for your landscape? You may be interested in this content rich eBook that takes the mystery out of picking plants. Download the eBook by clicking on the image below. 

Demystify Your Landscape by Learning to Pick Plants

Topics: Bulb Gardens