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Think spring! Pointers for bulb-planting season

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Bulbs represent one of the least-expensive ways to add color to your landscape. Daffodils, for example, can be had for 50 cents each, will provide years of enjoyment and increase in number, or "naturalize," when happy. Since the days have cooled off in much of the country, but the ground is still relatively warm, we are in prime bulb-planting time. Bulbs planted now will get right to work establishing their root systems. I've planted thousands of them over the years, and here are some basics based on that experience.
1. Good soil counts. Take the time to prepare the bed where you are going to be planting. Good drainage is particularly important, as most bulbs like it on the dry side during their period of dormancy.
2. A general rule for planting depth is that it should be three times a bulb's diameter. So a tulip bulb two inches across should be planted
six inches deep.
3. Don't be afraid to make bulb "sandwiches." More than one type of bulb can share a planting hole. Put the largest on the bottom, sprinkle on a little soil, add a smaller bulb, sprinkle on a little more, and finish up with a small bulb on top with just a couple of inches of soil over that.
4. Generally speaking, plant the pointy side of the bulb facing up. Sometimes this can be difficult to figure out, in which case plant the bulb on its side and it will actually right itself.
5. Don't fertilize when you plant. This may contradict advice you have read, but I've never done it. Using a product like bone meal in the planting hole can attract critters that will then feast on the bulbs. Instead, apply a good slow-release fertilizer as the foliage starts to appear in the spring. And a twice-yearly top-dressing with compost wouldn't hurt either.
6. But do water when you plant, just as you would something that came in a pot. And in the spring, if you don't get those April showers.
7. More is more. Don't skimp on the number of bulbs you buy. A dozen crocus will go almost unnoticed but a hundred will make a statement.
8. This is not a planting tip, but resist all temptation, after the blooming season, to braid, tie up or cut the bulb's foliage until it begins to turn yellow and flops over. Then it is safe to cut it off. Doing anything else beforehand will impinge on the plant's ability to photosynthesize, which is crucial to the formations of the next season's blooms.
The photos are from companies I have ordered from over the years and can recommend based on my experience. I've included links to their web sites in the captions.
What bulbs are you planting this season?

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  • Miriam I
    Miriam I Bay Shore, NY
    on Oct 18, 2012

    Excellent tips, Doug! Thank you for sharing.

  • Douglas Hunt
    Douglas Hunt New Smyrna Beach, FL
    on Oct 19, 2012

    I think you're the one who rocks, @Serendipity R , planting 600 more tulips. Should be an awesome display. Interesting strategy re the snow. People often wonder if it's too late to plant bulbs. I say, if you can get 'em in the ground, it's not.

  • Kelly S
    Kelly S Bremerton, WA
    on Oct 19, 2012

    My veggie patch was all bulbs 2 years ago, then I moved them, and spread them out. I dug one big spot in front of the porch down at least 8 in. then re-planted the bulbs and tubers; biggest ones the deepest. I add bulbs tubers or rhizomes to it every year.

  • Kelly S
    Kelly S Bremerton, WA
    on Oct 19, 2012

    thanks for all the advise on bulbs.

  • Beth G
    Beth G Decatur, GA
    on Oct 19, 2012

    thanks Doug! I wonder what bulbs would work in a container or two on a balcony that faces N and E?

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