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Nothing says SPRING like tulips and other beautiful bulbs poking up through the cold ground or sometimes even snow. Spring bulbs seem to be some of the first plants that wake-up, mother nature from her long cold sleep.
Bulbs need to be planted before spring, usually in the fall once the air cools down the soil. You can plant anywhere from the end of September to the end of November as long as the cool weather is mostly here to stay. Spring bulbs like tulips need a cold period so they can bloom.
Bulbs can be ordered or bought anytime as long as they are kept dormant by keeping them cool and in a dark place. A paper bag stored in the fridge works perfectly. I usually get my bulbs from Vesseys. They are a Canadian company that issues a beautiful catalogue several times a year. I am not an affiliate of Veseys, I simply love their variety and service.
Below is a list of bulbs that I love and feel are necessary to complete a spring garden.
Top 10 Bulbs to Plant in Fall:
- Daffodil and/or Narcissus
- Fritillaria (The Crown Imperial)
- Grape Hyacinth
- Dwarf Iris
Spring bulbs are planted in fall or early winter inorder to bloom in Spring b\c they require a long period at least 12 weeks of cool tempertures to spark their biochemical process that causes them to flower . So we need to get them into ground before the ground freezes. Bulbs need to be planted at least 6 weeks before the ground becomes hard freezing frost. This allows the bulbs to establish themselves. If you plant to early the ground will be too warm and fungus and disease could set into the bulbs which will cause them to rot and not bloom in spring.
How Does It Work?
Bulbs need to be buried at different depths depending on the kind you are planting. Bulbs can be put in the ground-garden or kept properly (see below: container/forcing bulbs). This all depends on where you live geographically and if you have the room to store the containers during the winter. Here in Ontario or other colder climates, containers can be stored in a cool but not freeing spot- a winterized garage, unheated porch attached to a house or an unheated basement or cold storage are all prime locations.
Always start with high quality bulbs in packages that you can see and feel through the mesh bag. This way you can not only spot any problems before buying but the mesh bags allow the bulbs to remain dry. What that means is that you should look for plum and firm bulbs. Avoid soft, mushy and mold/mildew smelling bulbs. Also big bulbs tend to generally bloom more than smaller bulbs of the same variety.
Pick the Right Spot:
Most bulbs do best in full sun ( at least 6 hours) in well drained soil. Remember they often bloom before the trees fill in with leaves so you may have more “perfect spots” to plant than you think. After bulbs bloom; their green leaves must not be cut off only the spent blooms. The bulb needs to collect chlorophyll and nutrients and it does this through their green leaves. That said the floppy leaves can look messy lying on ground so you may want them to be behind or at the back of your flower beds so that they will be seen while everything else isn’t growing yet but their green leaves can be hidden behind the other plants while they collect their nutrients.
As I mentioned above , most spring bulbs like daffodils, tulips need to be planted in cool soil. In Ontario that is end of September to end of November (depending on temperature). Night temperatures somewhere between 5-10 degrees Celsius is ideal. Summer blooming bulbs like dahlia and gladiolus are best planted in the spring once all danger of frost has passed.
Depth is important. The bulb only has enough energy to push up through the ground from a certain depth. This is one of the easiest mistakes. Generally dig a hole 2-3 times deeper than the bulb is tall. So if your bulb is 2” tall than dig a hole 4-6” deep. There are always exceptions, so check the planting direction that come with your bulbs. Below is a rough chart on depth of the bulbs mentioned above.
Bulb Depth Chart:
There are different tools that can help ensure that your depth is correct. There is a simple hand shovel that has the measurements right on the shovel part. There are pointed dagger like tools that also have measurements on the pointed side, there is also a tool that you push down into the soil, pinch the handle in and pull up. This tool measures and removes the dirt from the hole so that you can just drop the bulb in. I like to just dig a big hole and add several bulbs. I do however use the hand shovel for measuring.
Always plant your bulbs pointy side up, if it is round than look for the roots and plant that down. Soil needs to be well drained so if it is clay than add organic matter or peat moss into your soil and mix well. By adding in Bone meal into the prepared hole you can deter animals and insects and keep the bulb a bit dryer.
Water well right after planting. This will encourage the bulb to send out roots, to establish itself before the freeze of winter, will fill in any air pockets, holes around the soil which will also aid the bulb in keeping its correct depth, and warmth over the winter. Air pockets can cause the bulb to dry out and stunt growth of the flower or worse…. not grow at all.
Mulching over the bulbs is the easiest way to keep weeds from stealing nutrients in the soil plus they are just ugly! Plain dirt may also attract insects and disease. Mulch is the best way to avoid this. 2-3″ of mulch will still allow the bulbs to push through the soil and mulch with no issues.
Bulbs always look great in mass plantings that are not all in rows. The more irregular grouping the better. Individual bulbs scattered around your garden doesn’t give the “umph” that you will get with a bigger group. Also plant different colours mixed for a better display. I love red, my house is grey with red trim but early on I planted only red tulips along the front of the house. I thought that this would pop against the house. It was beautiful if I took a picture of one tulip up close but on the whole, it didn’t have the “umph” I wanted. By adding in yellow and some white, bright pink and some multi coloured tulips I had a bigger display that all played up the bright colours and gave me the “umph” that I wanted.
Planting smaller perennial bulbs like crocus, scillia , hyinthins in front of daffodils, tulips and lilly’s creates double the colour and variety!
Many nursery’s and bulb catalogues also sell collections of bulbs that can do all the planning for you. You just have to follow their outline and bam you have a beautiful spring garden of bulbs.
So no matter which route you want to go, planting spring bulbs now will add to the season of rebirth, new beginnings and earth awakening. With beautiful colours to boot!
If you have any other questions about bulb planting; drop a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and please share or pin for later.