Have you seen yards in early spring bursting with the colorful blooms of tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, or crocus? Ever wish you had them blooming in your yard? Getting a colorful display of early blooming bulbs begins in the late fall, before the ground freezes. You see, so-called hardy bulbs, such as tulip, daffodils, and crocus, need to go through a period of cold before they will bloom. So now is the time to get those bulbs in the ground, in late September and October. Below we tell you how to plant bulbs and give you other useful tips for maintaining their beauty for years to come.

Bulbs to Plant in Fall

Irises come in many shades of purple.

Irises come in many shades of purple.

  • Aconite, Winter
  • Allium
  • Crocus
  • Daffodil
  • Glory-Of-The-Snow
  • Hyacinth
  • Iris, Dutch
  • Scilla
  • Snowdrops
  • Tulip

 

How-To . . .

 

Select the Right Location

Plant in your perennial gardens to give them a burst of early color. The soil in those gardens is already prepared, so you won’t have to do much preparation before you plant.

Plant on a south slope for the earlier blooms. Planting on a hillside or slope will yield earlier blooms overall.

Plant under trees. The area under trees is often a difficult place to get other plants to grow effectively. Hardy bulbs do better than most plants do under trees because they bloom early, before the leaves have come on. Some tree varieties are better choices than others for undergrowth planting. Oaks and ashes are among the best. These trees have less compact root systems and are not toxic to plants growing under them such as nut trees can be.

Select a site with good drainage. Bulbs do not tolerate overly moist locations.

Prepare the Soil

Plant bulbs with the root plate down.

Plant bulbs with the root plate down.

Use peat moss or compost to amend the soil in the area where you wish to plant the bulbs. Bulbs grow well in most soils but they will grow better if you add compost. Clay soils need the most care in this regard. For best results, dig in the organic matter to about 30 cm deep.

Fertilize

Fertilize the bulbs each year to keep bulbs healthy for years to come. Bulbs will do well if fertilized with 70 ml of 10-10-10 soluble fertilizer plus about 400 ml of bonemeal per every 3 m^2. Reapply the soluble fertilizer in the early spring just after the shoots have come through the ground, but do not fertilize them any later because the bulbs may rot as a result.

Use phosphorous for root development. Mix the phosphorus deep into the soil and then set the bulbs on top of them. Most bulbs are planted at a depth of 15 to 20 cm.  Bonemeal is a good bulb fertilizer.

Test the soil pH. The soil should ideally have a pH of 6 or 7. You can add limestone, except in areas around trees because trees do best in a more acidic soil.

Plant many blue star scilla for a carpet of color next spring.

Plant many blue star scilla for a carpet of color next spring.

Create the Best Display

Plant huge numbers of bulb for the greatest effect. Whether in rows or in bunches, bulb blooms are the showiest when their numbers are many.

Plant at an optimum depth for the type of bulb you are planting. A good rule to follow is to plant the bulbs at a depth which is three times as deep as the bulb is tall. So the smaller bulbs like snowdrop will be planted at a shallower depth. Tulips and daffodils will generally be planted at 10 to 15 cm. And remember, for visual display, small bulbs will yield small blooms and large bulbs large blooms. You probably do not want the small bulbs situated behind the large bulbs.

Dig and loosen the entire bed to the proper depth for best results. You can just dig a hole in the soil with a narrow spade and drop the bulb in. There are tools especially made for planting bulbs. Ideally a bulb planter will cut out a circular plug of soil so that a hole of proper depth is opened. You then place the bulb in the hole and replace the plug. But in many soils bulb planters do not work well.

Plant with the pointy end of the bulb up.

Water

Water the bulbs to settle the soil and give the bulbs a good start. The bulbs will root before cold reaches them. Do not over-water. Again, bulbs can rot in soggy soil.

Care for Foliage after Blooming

Imagine these tulips without their blooms.

Imagine these tulips without their blooms.

Many people to not find bulb foliage attractive. But the heavy foliage of tulips or daffodils should not be mowed until it begins to yellow and die back in the late spring or early summer. The bulbs need this foliage to photosynthesize nutrients acquired through the leaves.  Leaving the foliage alone for a few weeks will feed the bulb and assure nice blooms the following year.

Planting bulbs in gardens with perennials like hosta or daylilies is effective for masking the ragged foliage.

Small bulb plants like snowdrops will die back quickly and generally have disintegrated before the first spring mowing.

Mulch or Not

Cover the beds with 5 to 8 cm of mulch over bigger bulb like tulips. Mulch will stabilize the temperature and moisture fluctuation.  Do not mulch over snowdrops or small flowing bulbs.

 

Combat Critters

Squirrels and deer will eat the blooms off tulips. One way to ruin their appetite is to blend cayenne pepper and water, put it in a sprayer or spray bottle, and douse the blooms. Sprinkle the pepper heavily over the ground where the bulbs or planted. Of course, you will have to repeat the dose if it rains and for new blooms.

 

Alium sports a large ball of purple.

Alium sports a large ball of purple.

 

 

The blooms that sprout from bulbs generally are easily cared for once you get them in the ground. And their colors are vibrant. Planting the bulbs in the fall takes time and effort. The easiest way to plant and maintain bulb is to ask you lawn maintenance company to plant and maintain the bulbs for you.