There is perhaps nothing more cheerful than a bulb blooming in the early days of spring. That promise of the gardening season to come is like balm for the soul and a feast to the eye. Provide that pleasure for yourself (and your neighbors) by planting bulbs in your garden.
Preparing the Soil for Bulbs
Choose a sunny spot for bulbs. Remember that the bare branches of most deciduous trees will still provide plenty of sunlight for early blooming spring bulbs. Concentrated bulb plantings under trees are eye-catching and front gardens or borders are always popular spots for bulbs.
Be sure that your soil has good drainage. If you’re working from a clay base, add compost to balance and improve the soil. Bulbs also need phosphorus around the roots to optimize growth. Once you have dug the hole for your bulb, mix bonemeal or superphosphate into the bottom – it will stay there and feed the roots.
Add some fertilizer to the hole as well. A spring blooming bulb needs a 10-10-10 fertilizer mixed in with the bonemeal, while summer blooming bulbs should be fertilized once the shoots appear and consistently right up until they bloom. Try a slow release pellet-based fertilizer that will give your bulbs the food they need, when they need it.
When to Plant Your Bulbs
Spring bulbs should be placed in the garden during late fall. It can be great exercise in the crisp weather and with the proper tools, the task goes quickly. Wait until about six weeks before a heavy frost. Think about buying your bulbs sooner though, as supply could disappear and leave you empty handed. If you see something you must have, pick it up. Store it in a cool, dark place until planting time, like your cold cellar or garage. Use an outdoor thermometer to keep track of the weather.
Summer blooming bulbs (which are technically rhizomes or tubers, but we most often lump them in the bulb category) should be planted once soil temperature has reached a certain point. Wait until the soil two inches down gets to 61 degrees Fahrenheit (measure with a thermometer for accuracy) and proceed with planting.
Optimum Arrangements for Bulbs
A straight line of bulbs will appear patchy and stringy in the garden. Opt instead for groups of 5 to 9 bulbs, paying special attention to bloom periods. Place earlier bloomers with later ones to provide lasting color and effect.
The beauty of a field of bulbs can be achieved in a smaller scale by dedicating large portions of your garden to bulbs. Multiple rows of daffodils or tulips look stunning for a good period of time in the spring and lend your yard the feel of a Scandinavian valley – put up a windmill to complete the effect!
Look outside of the garden as well and plant bulbs amongst the lawn. Crocuses can be especially beautiful peaking up through the snow on patches in the grass. Sure, they will be mowed over, but by then they’re finished blooming and will be covered by the growing grass.
Spring and summer bulbs can be especially beautiful as cut flowers, adorning your home on the inside as well as out. Be sure to fertilize properly for the best blooms and water well before cutting. Tulips, lilies and callas are all gorgeous and long lasting as cut flowers.
Bulbs are fantastic and nearly essential additions to every garden. The bright colors, brilliant shapes and ease of planting and maintenance make them a favorite for all gardeners.
Want to learn more about planting bulbs in your garden?
Here are a few links with more information on the subject.
The University of Illinois Extension has a guide to planting and growing bulbs.
The University of Vermont Extension also has a guide on Bulbs for Spring Bloom.
You can learn more specifically about planting daffodil bulbs from the University of Missouri.
Read up on forcing bulbs from the University of Rhode Island Landscape and Horticulture Program.