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Bulbs: Always Worth the Effort

To improve the early spring show in your garden, there is nothing better than spring flowering bulbs. Each spring I vow that in the fall I will plant more tulips, crocus, scilla, chionodoxa, fritillaria and all the splendid selections I have seen in other people's gardens. I am always pleased and usually surprised by the show the next year.

Bulb planting is not my favourite task, nor are bulbs cheap. These two factors prevent me from planting as many as I vowed I would. To make bulb planting more pleasurable, I like to combine it with bed renovation. This way I am also considering the colour schemes, plant combinations and overall garden design.

Spring flowering bulbs are perfectly suited to the Canadian climate. They are adapted to a short growing season with temperature extremes and dry spells. Bulbs have a short flowering season, the foliage remains to photosynthesize and store food for the following season and then becomes dormant during the heat of the summer. Most spring bulbs are native to the Mediterranean and will naturalize in our own temperate climate.

Bulbs can suit many garden styles, from the formal gardens which surround the Parliament Buildings to natural-looking woodland or meadow gardens to the small urban plot. Consider the microclimate of the area you are planting before deciding upon the bulb(s) you need. Tulips and hyacinths do well in full sun whereas some of the bulbs suitable for naturalizing are best planted in filtered shade which mimics their natural habitat. Scilla, crocus, snowdrops and daffodils are all suitable companions to turfgrasses or for meadow-type plantings. Scilla will form a sea of blue in the spring. Avoid mowing while they are in flower, mow high for the first month afterwards, then resume your regular mowing height.

When buying bulbs, go to a reputable garden centre and don't delay. The best and most unique selections are sold out early and with bulbs, the bigger the bulb, the bigger and better the flower. Smaller and less expensive bulbs are a good buy for larger areas which you are naturalizing. The variability in size and quality is suitable for natural areas and the smaller bulbs will catch up after a year or two. Check for scars, signs of disease and the density of the bulb. They should feel firm and heavy for their size.

If you cannot plant immediately then store the bulbs in paper bags in the fridge or a cool location. Bulbs are living, breathing beings and will suffocate in a closed plastic bag. Plant them outside as soon as the hot weather is over. The goal of fall planting is to plant in time for roots to become established in preparation for the spring flush. If planted too early or when it is too warm, then it is possible that the bulb will send up its shoot and be killed by the frost.

The rule of thumb for planting bulbs is to place them a depth of three times the size (length) of the bulb. The average tulip will be planted 4-5 inches deep, daffodils need to be 6-8 inches deep and small bulbs such as scilla or crocus can be planted 2-3 inches deep. Planting a number of large bulbs 5-8 inches deep is not an easy task, especially when soil conditions are not loose and friable, like they show on TV.! As with all gardening, bulb planting is the most pleasurable after a good solid rain.

Bonemeal, which is mainly comprised of slow release phosphorous, is the perfect fertilizer to use when planting bulbs. Sprinkle a small amount at the base of the planting hole, mix it with the soil a bit and place the bulb, point-side up, on top of that. Phosphorous is required for strong root development. Fertilize again in the spring when the foliage emerges with a product similar to 10-4-8.

If you are combining large and small bulbs together, such as tulips and anemones, daffodils and scilla, fritillaria and grape hyacinth or other such combinations, then replace 2-3 inches of soil over the large bulb, then push the smaller bulbs into the soil around the outside of the planting hole.

When planting several bulbs close together, it is easier to dig up the entire area to the proper depth, set the bulbs in the hole and then cover them. When the bulbs are tulips and other treats for squirrels, this also allows you to easily place netting over the bulbs to prevent them from being dug up but still allowing them to grow.

Daisy Moore, 1998.




Other autumn garden tips:

(click on the tip you want to read)


Fall Perennials
Planning New Beds for Fall Planting
The Garden in Transition
Dividing and Transplanting Perennials
The Dos and Don'ts of Staking Trees
Re-Seeding or Sodding the Lawn
Bulbs: Always Worth the Effort
Fertilizing the Lawn in Late Summer or Early Fall
Preparing the Vegetable Garden for Next Year
Growing Garlic ...For Food or Ornament
Priorities for Fall Gardening
Preparing the Garden for Winter





Home  |  Garden designs  |  Naturalized gardening  |  Help with your garden  |  Garden Tips Spring  Summer  Fall  | Contact Daisy


Daisy Moore 2006