Q: When you wrote about bulb planting, I took a look at my backyard and decided that I have a space that would work for bulbs. It faces south-south-east so it gets some relief during the summer from the hot afternoon sun. That spot will work, right? I have several large pots, too. Can I use them for bulbs? Do you have any other guidance for me being a first-time bulb grower? Thanks! – C.W., Albuquerque
A: I’m pleased that you’ve found a space that sounds like it will be perfect for the growing of spring blooming bulbs.
Offering the relief from the hot afternoon sun will keep your planting healthier.
As for guidance, here are a couple of things to know.
First, the ground should be well-worked before planting.
Trying to “root in” in a space that isn’t roughed up would be hard on the bulbs, so get out there and give the earth a good turning before planting. If the spot hasn’t ever been planted before, consider adding some well-milled compost to help with drainage, add some much needed nutrition, encourage water holding capability and oddly, drainage. Bulbs do not like to live in soggy spots.
You’ve got the soil turned and amended, removed and broken up any large clumps of soil and taken away any uncovered sticks and stones in the space, so it’s time to plant. On the market, you can find bulb planting tools that you might employ, or use a stout hand trowel.
Remember to be conscious of the mature height of what you’re going to plant and design accordingly. Depending on how the space is viewed you want tall in the back, graduating to shorter varieties in the front. Or if it’s a circle, tall in the middle, graduating to the shorter ones as you get to the edge.
Keep in mind that most of the spring bloomers will live happily with each other. They thrive in the same environments easily, making it easy to have a mixed-up bulb garden with several types.
Next, be aware of how deep you’ll need to plant your treasures. The rule of thumb is to plant bulbs double their depth. Here’s how you determine that ratio. Let’s say you have a bevy of tulips and each bulb averages about two inches tall. Planting double its depth, you’ll dig the hole four inches deep.
For taller bulbs like daffodils, you’re looking at a bulb that could easily be four to six inches tall. Doing the math, you’ll plant eight-to-12-inches deep. Sounds like these could be deep holes, but you want to offer the stability the bulb needs to support the above ground growth when they pop through.
Smaller bulbs like crocus and grape hyacinths get put in a hole that will be fairly shallow comparatively, but just use the rule of thumb and all should be well.
When you’ve gotten the holes dug, consider adding about a half tablespoon of bulb food (bone meal works too) to the hole and cover that with a smidgen of soil. It’s best for the health of the bulb that it does not sit directly on any type of fertilizer.
Set the bulb in the hole and push the excavated soil back around the bulb. Snug it around the bulbs to keep them stable. Water the space to settle it and voila, you’re done. Well, sort of.
You will want to water perhaps every 10 days so the soil stays moist all throughout the winter months, unless we’re blessed with enough precipitation.
Now you say you have pots you’re considering planting. It will be best if the pots are fairly deep. Shallow pots will work for short varieties of bulbs, but you run the risk of the pots freezing if it does get too cold through winter. I’d hesitate employing a pot shorter than 14 inches deep, and it must drain.
It’ll be safest to have them in light-colored pots, so they don’t absorb too much heat, effectively cooking what’s trying to grow in them. It’ll be the same rule when planting in a pot. Double the bulb’s depth, add a bit of bulb food to the bottom of each hole, snug the soil around each bulb and water to settle.
Now, if you’re like me, having a bit of color during the gloom of winter is always welcome, so consider planting some pansies or violas along with the bulbs. Planting them directly with the bulbs, in both the bulb bed or in your pots, will, if anything, remind you to water periodically.
Pansies should thrive all winter long then give way to the bulbs that’ll come up in the spring.
Just remember to plant your bulbs double their depth and water enough so nothing dries out during the winter months. It’s really as easy as that.
Happy Diggin’ In knowing that you’ll be rewarded come spring with color galore.
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.