Bulbs perform best in well-drained soil; soggy soil can induce rot and inhibit healthy growth. A rockery, a sloping bank or a raised bed provides good drainage. Bulbs are also great in container gardens. Most bulbs are hardy and easy-to-grow; they make beautiful displays in sun or shade, even ice and snow. Choose bulbs that are big and heavy with skins intact. All bulbs require a period of cool temperatures to grow healthy roots – so fall is the perfect time for planting.
Prepare the planting soil by loosening it down to 6 inches. If the soil is heavy and compacted, add compost. Tulips and daffodils need to be buried 4” deep, small bulbs only an inch or so. Plant bulbs at least 4 inches apart, plant farther apart if you want them to spread and naturalize. To create a longer flowering bulb bed, plant larger late-blooming bulbs first, like tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, add soil up to the top of the bulb then plant small early-blooming bulbs, like snowdrops, crocus and early daffodils, between the big bulbs. Cover them with soil.
Protecting your buried treasures
Do you have bulb-stealing voles or squirrels? (By the way, moles are meat eaters and don’t eat bulbs). After planting a bulb, set a low growing ground cover plant right on top. Choose Lysimachia nummularia (creeping jenny) or Viola odorata (sweet violet) over small bulbs. Vinca minor (periwinkle) looks spectacular under-planted with daffodils. Try topping bulb beds with aromatic woolly and red creeping thyme.
Feed now for brilliant blooms
At time of planting, apply an organic fertilizer with high phosphorus and potash such as Dr. Earth Bulb Food or Espoma Bulb Tone on the soil surface and let fall rains water it in. Or make your own formula; I use 3 parts dolomite lime, 2 parts bone meal and 1 part 5-10-10 fertilizer.
Great plant combinations
Early arriving snowdrops create a graceful effect under a low growing Japanese maple. Scatter colorful Anemone blanda (windflowers) under shrubs to create a blue, pink or white mat of cheerful daisy-like flowers from March to May. Alliums are architectural and modern looking; schubertii and globemaster are eye-catching varieties in garden beds. Plant bulbs around Hellebores, columbine or flowering currant for a brilliant display of early spring color. For the new gardener, “Perfect Partner Bulbs” are bulb packages pre-selected for compatibility and color harmony.
On October 1 from 12:30-1:30 p.m., I will be presenting a free seminar, Year-round Color with Bulbs. Please join me for time-saving tips and creative ideas to brighten your garden with bulbs. I’ll also explain how to force bulbs for holiday blooms.