Bulbs are among the easiest plants to care for in the garden. They offer a reliable, colorful display just when you need it most. The trick to growing large, healthy, flowering bulbs is to prepare the soil well at planting. A rich, well amended, well draining soil with a balanced pH will feed the bulbs through the growing and blooming season.
Few realize how great our region is for gardening with flower bulbs. True, many of the bulbs we plant in fall are different from those planted in the other regions. Tulips and hyacinths will need pre-chilling before planting and will most likely perform as annuals (See the Special Note below). Other bulbs, however, including species tulips, daffodils, dwarf narcissi, muscari, ixia, freesias, iris and others, need no special treatment and should perennialize or naturalize, if not heavily watered when bulbs are dormant.
Pre-chill your tulips and hyacinths, by storing them at 35-45° F, such as a refrigerator crisper drawer, for a minimum of 6 weeks and up to 14 weeks. It's important to avoid storing bulbs near ripening fruit, as they give off ethylene gas which can damage the flower inside the bulb. Once removed from cool storage, bulbs must be planted immediately and may be planted anytime from November through January. Regardless of when they are planted, they will bloom in late February/March.
Bulb Planting Steps
- Choose healthy bulbs. Avoid bulbs that are dry and withered, spongy or moldy. In general, the larger the bulb for its type, the more flowers.
- Choose an appropriate location. Most flowering bulbs prefer full sun, but their short, active growing period allows us to take advantage of the seasonal changes in the garden; for instance, Tulips and Daffodils can be planted under a deciduous tree since the early spring growing season occurs when the trees are bare; this gives the bulbs the full sun location they require. So don’t overlook a spot that seems perfect, just because it’s a bit shady in the fall. Well-drained soil will prevent the bulbs from rotting in cool weather.
- Plant with the pointed side up. The pointed end is the stem. You may even be able to see some shriveled roots on the flatter side. If you really can't tell, Simply plant them on their sides.
- Plant bulbs to a depth of about 3 times their diameter. For Daffodils, that’s about 6 - 8 inches. Smaller bulbs can be planted to a depth of 3-4 inches and so on.
- Mix some bone meal or Bulb Food and a soil amendment or planting mix into the soil at the bottom of the hole at planting time, to encourage strong root growth. You could mix in some water soluble fertilizer as well, but it’s not necessary if you’ve already amended your soil.
- If rodents tend to eat your bulbs, you can try sprinkling some red pepper in the planting hole. A more secure method is to plant your bulbs in a cage made of hardware cloth. The roots and stems grow through, but the rodents can’t get to the bulbs. You can make it really easy on yourself by sticking to daffodils, which rodents and most other animals avoid.
- Replace the soil on top of the bulbs. Water the bulbs after planting, to help them settle in and close any air pockets. Through the fall and winter, you only need to worry about watering your bulbs if you’re having a particularly dry season. Come spring, you should be well rewarded for all your efforts.
- When growth appears in the spring, feed the bulbs with a granular bulb or other fertilizer formulated for bloom or fruit production. This feeding will help strengthen the bulbs through the current season and more importantly it will help prepare the bulbs for next years bloom. Repeat the feeding after bloom but before the foliage dies off. It is important to remove the flower stems as the flowers die so that the bulbs do not put energy into seed production. During the time between bloom and the natural browning of the foliage, bulbs are forming the blooms for the next year. It is important to allow this to happen naturally. Once the browning has started, you can tidy up the appearance by folding and tying the foliage into bunches. Do not remove the foliage until it is completely brown.
- For A Natural Effect: Bulbs look best in clumps or drifts. To get a natural looking effect, either dig a large area and plant several bulbs at once or simply toss the bulbs into the air and dig holes and plant where ever they fall. You’ll be surprised how well this works.
- Mark Your Plantings: To make sure you don't disturb your bulbs by trying to plant something in the same spot, mark where and what you have planted.
- To Divide Bulbs: Many bulbs spread and increase in numbers by dividing or pupping, making the original planting over crowded. If performance has diminished or is not what you expect, you wish to move or divide your flowering bulbs, the safest time is when they enter their dormant period. This is usually just after the foliage completely dies back. Dormancy is brief, even though nothing is happening above ground, so don’t put this task off.