As the weather chills and the arrival of winter comes to mind, I have visions of tulips and daffodils dancing in my head…shouldn’t it be sugar-plums. A trick to remind yourself when to plant anything is to connect it to a holiday. In this instance, Halloween is that holiday. When you think of Halloween don’t just think of ghosts and goblins, but of the beautiful kaleidoscope of color that the new season will bring as the winter fades.
Many state that September or October are the months that bulbs must be planted, however, I like to hold off until Early to Mid-November as long as mother nature and the weather agree meaning no hard frosts or snow. The reason being is because the sales begin to show up and increase during November. Today, I was able to purchase almost 100 bulbs for less than $40 because they were 60% off. However, if there is a flower that I must have because it is hard to find such as Fritillaria meleagris – then I snatch them right up. Buying bulbs in large bulk bags where there is 15 to 20 bulbs per bag is a much better bargain and use of my hard earned dollar.
All of that being said, it is still important to make sure the bulbs are quality. They should be hard – not mushy, soft or have mold growing on them. This can be the case if storing bulbs and reusing them from last spring. Discard any bulbs that have these characteristics.
While shopping, pay close attention to the bloom time, you will want to make sure your mixes either bloom at the same time or bloom throughout the spring depending on the design of your garden.
Bulbs are often planted in ground, but I love them best in containers. Since my soil is more on the clay side and I don’t have the time or patience to amend it; bulbs will rot before they bloom. I prefer planting bulbs in containers. This way, I can ensure that I will have beautiful springtime blooms due to excellent soil and good drainage. Planting them in a container design that is four seasons is ideal, but bulbs alone in a container in spring have a grand effect on the garden. It brings it to another dimension of beauty for me.
In the South, we must refrigerate bulbs 2 weeks prior to planting so that they go through a dormancy cycle and be ready to bloom their heads of in the spring.
When planting bulbs, you always want to have the pointed end upward and the flat side where roots will emerge or are already emerging on the bottom. However, if you do this incorrectly, the emerging stem will grow toward the sun.
Make sure to reference the planting depth on the packaging to know what is correct. The general rule of thumb is to plant 2 to 3 times deep the height of the bulb. So if the bulb is 1-inch high – plant 2 to 3-
inches deep. It is also extremely important to plant the bulbs in a location where they will receive the correct sun exposure –full sun is 6 + hours of UV light and shade is 3 or less.
Typically, I like to scatter bulbs or put them in groupings of 5 to 9 when planting them in the ground. In containers, bulbs can be planted one right next to another and be a floral bouquet as the snow melts.
Using a bulb planter is fine, but attaching an auger to a power drill makes the job super fast and easy.
If planting in containers, like I did, make sure to use a good container soil. Fertilizer can be used, but it isn’t necessary. However, if you feel inclined to use it an organic granular fertilizer or a fertilizer specialized for bulbs is ideal. If planting in containers in the North, make sure to top the soil with mulch or leaves to insulate the bulbs. Placing the containers in the garage, shed, or placing them close to the house would help keep the soil from freezing through.
After planting your bulbs, make sure to water til it comes out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the container. If you live in a Northern climate, watering during the winter months is not necessary as the rain and melting snow will provide enough water for your containers and in-ground plantings. In Southern states, it may be necessary to water if there are spells of drought and heat throughout the winter months.
It may be necessary to protect your bulbs from squirrels and rabbits. Squirrels like to dig up the bulbs and play with them like basketballs. The way to prevent this from happening is by topping the soil with mesh or chicken wire then topdressing with mulch. The critters won’t be able to dig to get to them. The other problem may be rabbits or deer. They prefer the gourmet leafy greens of your newly emerging bulbs. I prefer using organic methods were possible and have had luck with making a homemade cayenne pepper spray to deter them from chomping on the foliage.
Once your beauties have blossomed, bloomed and are spent. Take your pruners and remove the stem and foliage. This will force more energy into the bulbs instead of it spending it time on the dying foliage.
After all my bulbs have bloomed, I remove the bulbs from the containers and store them for next season and plant the bare containers with annuals for the summer months. If you would prefer to not remove the bulbs from the containers, working your annuals around them is completely doable. It’s totally understandable for gardeners out there with limited time on their hands.
If you would prefer to remove and store your bulbs, remove them from your containers and prune off any foliage. Place in a paper bag and put on a shelf in your garage, basement or shed. The reason for the paper bag is to absorb any moisture so that the bulbs do not form mold or rot. Placing them on a shelf gets them out of reach for critters to eat or use them for their own purposes.
Then the following fall (remember around Halloween), take your bulbs that you stored and reuse them in your containers or plant them in the ground. I like to take pictures of what I have done in the past and put them in the bags or make notes on the bags of what I would do differently for the following season.
Favorite Bulb Source: K. Van Bourgondien and Sons