One of the most popular ways to get beautiful, spring flowers is to plant bulbs in the fall. Bulbs have many other advantages including the fact that they’re perennials, so they come back every year, and they are cheaper than most other types of flowers since bulbs can be purchased in quantity and return every year.
Here are some tips for properly planting and caring for your bulbs so that you can have year after year of great returns.
Proper Soil for Bulbs
The soil should be of the right type and properly prepared before the bulbs are planted. Good drainage is vitally important to bulb plants. The soil should be loose and well-stocked with organic matter (compost) and nutrients. Adding a phosphorus fertilizer to the hole, followed by a thin layer of soil and then the bulb itself, will encourage proper root growth.
Optimum pH levels for bulbs is 6-7, so apply lime or other amendments as required. Spading and turning the area around the planting site (3-4 feet around the bulb) is a good idea as well.
Planting Times for Spring Bulbs
Spring bulbs are usually planted in the late summer or fall. Some specific types of bulbs require earlier or later planting, but most can be planted in September or October. They should be planted before major frosts set in.
Plant Bulbs at the Correct Depth
When planting, the general rule of thumb for bulbs is to plant them 2-3 times as deep as the bulb is tall. So large bulbs like tulips will be planted up to 8 inches deep while others may be only 3-4 inches deep. Summer bulbs will be planted according to species requirements, usually much shallower.
Most bulbs will do well if given sunlight to warm the soil around them. For this reason, south-facing hills often sprout new plants before north-facing ones. Most bulbs require at least moderate sun during the day.
Use the Right Bulb Varieties
Your climate will effect which type of bulb plants will do the best in your area. Tulips generally grow well in most of North America, but some types of daffodil and hyacinth do not do as well in very cold climes. So choose a variety that matches your climate and the area you plan to plant, in terms of shade and moisture.
Bulb Pests and Their Signs
The biggest pest to bulbs is rot. If the soil does not drain well enough, the bulbs can become soggy and rot away instead of sprouting. Always be sure your soil is well-drained.
Rodents often dig up bulbs to eat, so in some areas it’s recommended that a fine mesh wire be buried around the bulb in the bed. A handful of sharp, finely crushed rocks or shellfish may also do the trick.
Daffodils are susceptible to the narcissus bulb fly. This will be noted if the plants come up looking “grassy” with few or no blooms. The fly looks like a bumblebee, but moves faster and is slightly smaller. Larvae tunnel into and eat the bulbs, causing rot.
Bortytis, or tulip fire, is a fungus that can affect bulbs after extended wet weather in the spring. To combat it, cut off decayed leaf tips (where it first appears) and burn the cuts on the plant side to kill any lingering fungus and cauterize the wound.
Cutting Foliage on Bulbs
Foliage on bulb plants should not be cut until it has died away for the year. When the entire visible plant is yellow, it may be cut down to ground level. Cutting it before this can cause the plant to lose vital nutrients that it needs to survive the winter.
Alternatively, some gardeners (especially in areas where frost bites deep into the ground) will excavate their bulbs after cutting and store them inside for the winter.