One of the things about gardening that drives me crazy is that it’s mostly about delayed gratification. Good gardeners often cheerfully say things like, “There’s always next year!” But, I want it NOW, I want it RIGHT NOW! Sigh. Gardening, like living with cats, is a great teacher of patience.
Our yard and the Tomato Envy gardens still need a lot of work, and part of the joy of gardening is in the process itself. Or so I’m told.
One of my biggest goals is to systematically eliminate large areas of bare soil in my perennial beds. The less bare soil I have, the less weeds I will have. And, I’m always up for pops of color nestled in unexpected places and multi-season interest. That’s why I learned how to plant bulbs.
Learning how to plant bulbs is easy, but what’s not so easy is not getting addicted to them. Bulbs are like magical food storage pods that allow certain flowering plants like tulips, daffodils, irises, hyacinth, and allium to lie dormant all winter and then put on a nice show in spring.
Despite their papery, dried out appearance, they are very much alive and should be handled with care. Here are some tips for planting and caring for bulbs.
- Planting is easy. When you look at a bulb, you’ll see a pointy end. The other end is flat and may have some roots coming from it. Plant the bulb pointy end up. Follow planting instructions for specific bulbs to determine spacing and planting depth. Larger bulbs need to be planted 5-6″ deep while tiny bulbs should only be planted 2-3″ deep.
There’s no need to fertilize at the time of planting. The bulb contains everything needed for spring flowering the first year. Most bulbs are perennials and will naturalize to form sizeable clumps. Each spring, as the plants are emerging, feed them with an organic bulb fertilizer that’s high in phosphorous.
- Plant spring-flowering bulbs among later emerging perennials. When the flowers and foliage begin to fade, the perennials will help to hide it. For example, I planted allium bulbs around my late emerging perennial hibiscus. The dramatic allium will put on a colorful show in spring, and its fading foliage will be hidden by the leafy hibiscus later in the season.
- Once the bulb’s flowers begin to fade, deadhead them promptly so the plant will focus its energy on producing more food instead of producing seeds.
- After flowering, allow the fading foliage to yellow and die back before cutting it off at the base. Do not bundle or tie the foliage for a tidy appearance because this will limit the leaves’ access to sunlight and the plant won’t be able to make as much food for the bulb.
- Plant bulbs in groups or clusters for maximum impact in the spring rather than planting in singles.
- Find a good, reputable source for bulbs. Because bulbs are living things, it is important that they are handled with care, from harvesting to packaging and transport. Big box stores are not the best places to shop for bulbs. Instead, try your local garden center or good online sources like White Flower Farm.
- Consider dedicating a strip of space to a spring cutting garden. Plant colorful bulbs for flowers you can use to create beautiful bouquets in a sunny windowsill.