Q. We’ve decided to plant some spring blooming bulbs. We have shopped for some, have stored them in a cool dry place (out of the plastic bags like you suggested) and need you to explain the planting process for us. We’re pretty excited to get underway! – T. & R., Albuquerque
So here goes most everything I know on the planting and placing of spring bulbs.
I’m hoping that you’ve chosen spots in the landscape that get a fair amount of sun daily, especially during the spring months. Most spring bloomers prefer at least six hours of full sun a day. You could plant where they’ll get filtered light, like under a deciduous tree that hasn’t leafed out yet, or a lightly shaded space, but they perform best in the sun.
Next, if the bulbs you’ve chosen are going to get really tall at maturity, 18-to-20-inches, you should consider a more protected spot so they don’t get beaten to death by the spring winds.
Having chosen the spots, it’s time to work the soil. In the areas where you’ll plant, if it’s soil that you’ve worked and amended, good on you. If it’s a more “virgin” place, then work the soil. Spread a good 2-to-4-inch thick layer of finely milled compost, weed free (heat-treated) manure, coffee grounds, grass clippings, (as long as the lawn wasn’t treated with a weed killer), and any fallen leaves from your trees. Just run over the leaves with your mower and they usually get minced up enough to be worked into the ground. Having spread your soil amendments, you want to turn the area with a sharp-bladed shovel to a depth of at least eight inches. Really get in there and turn, turn, turn that soil.
If you are going to plant a smallish, area I’d still recommend adding some manure or compost to the places you’re going to plant. Planting in large containers or half-barrels? Make sure they are filled with fresh potting soil or at least have removed half of the spent soil and mixed in fresh to offer needed nutrients. Work the soil, add amendments, then water a bit to settle everything.
Now to the bulbs. I want you to pick up a bulb and really look at it. Most spring bloomers, allium, daffodils, tulips, crocus, hyacinths, Dutch iris and the like have a definite top and bottom. Planted crooked or upside-down, they will suffer or fail, so pay attention to the bulbs. On the bottom you’ll either find a circular spot that looks almost scabbed or shows some short roots. The bulb bottom is for the most part rather flat. The top of most bulbs usually comes to a point. So get familiar with the tops and bottoms of your bulbs, because it’s most important that they get planted tops up.
Here’s the rule of thumb when planting bulbs: Dig the hole twice as deep as the bulb is tall. So let’s say if you have a tulip bulb that is 2 inches tall, it gets planted 4 inches deep. A three inch daffodil bulb gets planted 6 inches deep. The crocus, maybe an inch tall, gets planted no more than 2 inches deep.
Using a hand trowel, dig a straight-sided hole as deep as the bulb needs. There are bulb planting tools available that have depth markings on them if you feel the need to be extremely precise. I suggest purchasing some bone meal, bulb food or granular superphosphate, too. As you dig the holes, sprinkle a couple of teaspoons in the bottom and cover it with just the barest amount of soil so the bulb doesn’t sit directly on the fertilizer.
Then set the bulb in the hole – point up – and push the soil that came out of the hole to cover and snug it in place. Remember, none of the bulb will be exposed above ground. If you see bulb, then the hole isn’t deep enough.
After you’ve gotten your collection planted, give the area a good drink of water. Remember that you’ll want to water throughout the winter months, perhaps weekly, depending on any precipitation we might get. Don’t just plant and forget them. Bulbs need some water to keep them insulated and have the moisture available to grow roots while they are waiting for spring.
I want to encourage you to plant lots of bulbs. Three or four bulbs will not make much of a show; more is better. The time to plant the promise of spring in your world is now. Have gobs of fun while you’re out there Diggin’ In!
Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to firstname.lastname@example.org.