Things I Wish I Knew Before Planting Fall Bulbs
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Avoid these rookie mistakes by learning when, where and how to plant bulbs this fall.
Here Is What I’ve Learned
Like most gardeners, I love to get my garden off to a colorful start in spring by planting bulbs the autumn before. The first fall I lived in my house, I planted lots of daffodils — and made a few mistakes. Over the years, I’ve gained wisdom with each batch of bulbs I’ve planted. Here’s what I wish I would’ve known before I started planting bulbs.
Cheap Bulbs Are No Bargain
Discounted bulbs may be tempting, but they are not usually the best value. They may produce fewer flower stalks and be more likely to be old or rotten. If you want to save on quality bulbs, look for early bird and bulk pricing deals instead.
Plant Pointy End Up
Okay, this one I knew. Most bulbs have a pointy tip where the stem will emerge. The root side is flatter and should face down. What I didn’t know is what to do when the ends aren’t so distinct.
Becky Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs suggests you lay the bulb on its curved side when you plant it. This way the roots can grow down from one end while the flower stalk can grow up. Plant them early so the bulbs bloom in time for the holidays.
Plant Perennials on Top of Your Bulbs
Perennial expert Stephanie Cohen taught me to get two seasons of interest out of one hole by planting late-emerging perennials like daylilies over bulbs. As the bulbs fade away after blooming, the summer perennials will provide cover and color. Planting them at the same time also avoids the risk of damaging the bulbs.
Keep Track of Where You Plant
Stephanie’s tip also helps me prevent another mistake I still make — forgetting where my bulbs are planted. If you don’t use perennials to help mark the spot, a garden journal can help you keep track. You can also make cute labels as plant markers.
Measure With Your Hori Hori Knife
My favorite garden hand tool is my hori hori knife, a traditional Japanese digging and weeding tool. So it’s a little embarrassing to admit how long it took to notice that my hori blade is printed with ruler markings. Now I use it to make sure I’m planting my bulbs to the right depth, which varies by type of flower.
Ask Nature When to Plant
Tim Schipper at Colorblends, a wholesale bulb supplier, knows you should plant spring bulbs when fall nighttime temperatures are between 40 and 50 degrees F (a lighted outdoor garden thermometer makes this easier to see). But he knows folks who follow cues like when crickets stop chirping, squirrels are busy burying acorns or hostas start to wither. Also, a good mail-order supplier will ship at just the right time to plant.
If You Can’t Dig Down, Cover Up
Between the clay soil and tree roots in my front yard, I wish I had known you can pile soil and compost on top of your bulbs if you can’t dig down far enough. Becky of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs says this can help the bulbs avoid rot over the winter and will give you what she calls a “luscious raised flower bed.” A layer of mulch and some edging around your garden bed can help keep this cover from washing away.
A planting auger that attaches to a drill can also make it easier to dig into heavy soil.
These Bulbs Don’t Appeal to Deer
Some Bulbs Will Do the Work for You
Want big swaths of color without planting thousands of bulbs? Choose bulbs that naturalize or spread on their own over the years. Gibbs Gardens in Northwest Georgia has more than a million daffodils across acres of woodlands thanks to this trick. Crocus, grape hyacinth, scilla and snowdrop bulbs naturalize well, too.