Few things in the gardening world are easier or more rewarding than growing spring-blooming bulbs. They require minimal effort to plant and maintain, and blend seamlessly into existing landscapes. Better yet, many spring blooming bulbs are perennial, returning year after year to fill the garden with vivid hues. In fact, some naturalize, increasing in numbers and blooms over time. Here’s what you need to know to succeed with spring bulbs.
When to Plant
Fall is usually the best planting time in most areas. You’ll find the best selection of bulbs for sale at nurseries and garden centers earlier in the season. Mail order catalogs will usually time delivery to match the best planting dates for your area. In cold-winter climates, plant any time before the ground freezes. In warmer regions, such as USDA Zones 9 to 11, some spring-blooming bulbs like Tulips, Hyacinths and Crocus will need to be pre-chilled before planting. Place these bulbs in the refrigerator in a sealed container for 8 to 10 weeks before planting or as directed on the package. From then on, you’ll probably have to treat such bulbs as annuals, replanting each year. They won’t rebloom without chilling. Anemone, Daffodil, Dutch Iris, Freesia and Ranunculus don't need chilling to bloom, even in mild winter areas. In warm zones, you can plant spring blooming bulbs all the way into December or early January, as long as you provided chilling, if needed. Your local nursery, garden center or Cooperative Extension Service can provide specifics on planting times and techniques for your area.
Choosing Healthy Bulbs
Select plump bulbs that are firm to the touch. Spongy, moldy or withered bulbs won’t grow or bloom as well, if at all. Bigger bulbs usually produce more or bigger blooms. They are usually also more expensive but you get what you pay for.
Where to Plant
Most bulbs thrive in full sun, but there are also types like Snowdrops, Anenome and Bluebells that prefer shady conditions. When considering planting locations, don't overlook areas beneath deciduous trees for sun-loving bulbs like Daffodils. Many trees will still be leafless in early spring, so bulbs will receive enough sun to bloom year after year. Most bulbs also grow well in containers and look especially great when planted beneath early spring flowers like Pansies, Violas or Forget-me-nots.
Plant in well-drained soil. Where drainage is poor, work organic matter, such as compost or leaf mold, into the top 12 inches of soil. Overly moist soils or poor drainage kills spring-blooming bulbs.
Use a bulb fertilizer to supply the necessary nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients needed to fuel a strong flower show. Work it into the bottom of the planting hole as directed on the package. Lightly feeding each year in spring, just as the bulbs emerge, can also be beneficial.
How To Plant
- Place bulbs into planting holes pointed side up, root side down. Depending on what type of bulb it is, you may see a small shoot on the pointed side and root remnants on the bottom. If you can't tell which end is up, ask your nurseryman or search the internet.
- If you bought packaged bulbs, the planting depth should be listed on the package. Mail order catalogs and the internet are also good sources of information on planting depth. Otherwise, dig a hole to a depth three times the diameter of the bulb. For large bulbs like Daffodil or Tulip, that's about 6-8 inches deep. For smaller bulbs, including Crocus, Grape Hyacinth, and Fressia, that's roughly 3-5 inches deep.
Insect pests are seldom serious problems, but varmits can be troublesome almost any time of year – after planting, over the winter or when bulbs are growing. You can outsmart most bulb-eating critters by planting bulbs they dislike, such as Daffodil, Hyacinth, Scilla, or Allium. Here are some other tips:
- Post-planting pests: Squirrels and chipmunks may unearth bulbs for a snack. Treating bulbs with a repellent prior to planting may help. Covering soil with chicken wire or bird netting usually works better. Planting in in hardware cloth cages sold in nurseries and garden centers also works.
- Winter pests: Moles don’t feed on bulbs but gophers, voles and field mice, which use mole and chipmunk tunnels, often do. To prevent, plant bulbs inside a hardware cloth "cage," or surround them underground with sharp rocks or crushed oyster shells.
Spring pests: Deer love Tulips and Lilies. Deer repellents sometimes help, but putting up a good deer fence or getting a dog, are the only surefire solutions. Also use Natria Snail & Slug Killer Bait to prevent feeding on flowers.