Bulb Planting

Time to tip-toe with tulips, crocus, daffodils and more

Daffodil Thalia

By Michael Leach

So many worn phrases accurately apply to bulbs: Can’t judge a book by its cover; small but mighty; big things come in little packages; the more the merrier. My mind flounders trying to find a clever new, way to describe them.Certainly the spring-flowering corms, rhizomes and bulbs we plant in fall can’t be judged by their nondescript appearances and size. Their cheery and sometimes fragrant flowers look nothing like the brown and beige knobs we plant now. The tiniest snow crocus creates enormous visual impact on a  late February day.

Crocus tommasinianus

When it comes to the spring flowers, I always rue not planting more of everything. As Wordsworth observed, “a host of daffodils” makes a memory that delights long after summer rolls in.

Whatever the phrasing used in describing bulbs and such, their planting time has arrived.

Trouble is, this end-of-the-season ritual comes when waning inspiration and energy are directed toward shutting down. This year the task will be especially onerous due to my drought-tortured soil  that is dry as flour below a granite countertop crust. Small explosives seem a far better choice than shovel or bulb planter.

To soften things up, I could water the site a few days ahead of planting. But an uncertain schedule means I’ll probably skip a morning workout and muscle my way through the concrete-like soil, all the while ruing the dull shovel blade I neglected to sharpen.

Once I get a hole dug, I’ll add 2 or 3 inches of water and let that soak in hoping the emerging roots chase the water. In “normal” years, I skip this. (As you probably know, only plant in a well-drained site or the bulbs will rot.)

Next comes the bulbs. I usually plant two or three types in layer-cake style. Big ones on the bottom, mediums in the middle and small ones on top, backfilling between each layer. If bulb fertilizer is at hand, I use it as recommended on the package. A lack of fertilizer, however, never seemed to hinder performance but this is recommended. Then I soak the area thoroughly and move on to the next dig.

Bulb experts also recommend:

  • Avoiding bulbs that are shriveled or have soft spots, rot  or green shoots.
  • Making holes about three times deeper than the diameter of the bulb. A 1-inch bulb needs a 3-inch deep hole.
  • Planting pointy ends up. Some types lack a pointy end. No matter, even upside down shoots eventually find their way to the surface.
  • Pairing bulbs with plants that don’t need a lot of summer watering. This also masks homely, fading bulb foliage.
  • Planting in groups — not single file — and buying as many bulbs as you can afford. After all, the more the merrier!

One response to “Bulb Planting

  1. Donna ietsch

    Hi Michael, Donna, the bulb gal here. A couple of comments about your rules for planting . A bulb that has a green shoot coming out of the nect may be a jonquil type and just getting a head start on the growing season. I would plant it unless the bulb seems rotted.
    Depth of planting can be the way you describe, but it may be too shallow, with rapid multiplication and smaller bulbs giving smaller flowers. Deep planting causes slower multiplication of the bub and deeper planting encourages the bulb to get bigger. My planting for daffodils is 2 x the height of the bulb (not counting the neck). That is usually 6″ deep for a 2 inch height bulb. A bulb planter will give you the proper depth.

    I have enjoyed your posts.

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