We all look forward to the first tiny green sprouts that pop up out of garden beds and planter boxes each spring, signifying the first, pretty glimpses of the beautiful bulbs that will bloom and bring an end to the winter blahs. Did you know that you can have bulbs blooming in your garden, and in your home, year round? You can, so read on and find out how.
What is a Bulb?
Bulb is a term used by horticulturists and gardeners to refer to a category of plants that begin with a round, bulbous structure. When planted, these bulbous bundles of energy will sprout roots from the bottom to anchor them into the earth, and eventually sprout a shoot up towards the surface of the soil. All bulbs are herbaceous, meaning they die down and become dormant in the winter. While they are not visible in these cold months, they are still alive, just below the surface, preparing themselves for another beautiful bloom come springtime.
Why Plant Bulbs?
Particularly if you are a first-time gardener – or a gardener at any level of expertise — planting bulbs is a great way to start a beautiful, lush, low maintenance garden because for the most part, they are a sure bet! You buy your bulbs in the fall: amazing little, compact, ready-to-grow bundles. Once you’ve done the initial planting, your job is done and the bulb takes over, doing all the work throughout the cold winter months, getting itself ready to grow in the spring, summer, or even fall.
Furthermore, well-planted bulbs will come back again and again, spreading, multiplying, and getting more vibrant each year. This saves you money and time, and it ensures that your garden is gorgeous year after year.
As with almost everything, you get what you pay for when it comes to buying bulbs. Think of your purchase as a long-term investment, since getting hearty, healthy bulbs will help to ensure that they last for many years.
A healthy bulb should always feel firm to the touch, never squishy. Ensure that the bulbs have very minimal marks or scarring, and that they have no shoot growth (unless you are buying lilies, which normally come with roots already sprouting). Don’t be afraid to ask someone at the nursery for advice when choosing your bulbs. After all, that is what they are there for!
Planting and Caring for Bulbs
The first thing to consider before planting your bulbs is the type of soil that you plant them in. Bulbs thrive in soil that holds an adequate amount of nutrients but also has very good drainage. Clayey soil, for instance, might hold too much water and rot your bulbs, and sandy soil has excellent drainage but might be too infertile to allow your bulbs to develop. Therefore, loamy soil (which falls somewhere between sandy and clay) is always your best bet for bulbs.
Planting bulbs is as simple as you can get! Simply dig a hole, plop in your bulb, and cover with the soil that you just removed. Make sure to give bulbs enough space in between one another, so that they don’t crowd each other out. Each type of flower needs a different amount of space, or different hole-depth, so look it up in a bulb-book or ask someone at the nursery where you buy your bulbs.
Once the bulbs are in the ground, and right through their growing and blooming periods, it is essential that you keep them well watered. Also, putting a thin layer of mulch over your bulbs just after planting them will help to protect them, keep the ground moist, and even hold weeds at bay. What you use for mulch really doesn’t matter, anything that you can get locally will do. Pine needles, wood chips, or homemade compost are all great options.
Popular Bulbs for Every Season
Spring: The most popular bulbs of all are spring-growing bulbs and we all catch ourselves looking out for their bright green shoots popping through the soil each year to mark the end of another long winter. These bulbs thrive on the winter cooling period and need to be planted in the fall, unless you live in a warmer climate zone in which case you may need to keep your bulbs in the fridge for a few weeks and plant them instead in early winter. Spring favourites include tulips, crocus, daffodils and irises.
Summer: Just because the tulips are gone doesn’t mean that bulb season is over. There are hundreds of beautiful summer-bloomers that will keep colour and life in your garden. Summer bulbs tend to be a little more sensitive to weather conditions and while hardy summer bulbs can be planted in the fall and survive the winter, tender summer bulbs can’t be planted until late spring and will have to be brought indoors if you want them to survive for consecutive years. Your best bet is to ask at your local nursery about the best way to handle your summer bulbs. Summer favourites include gladioli, dahlias, lilies, and begonias.
Fall: Fall is normally the time of year when you start to thinking about planting next year’s bulbs but there are many great bulbs that bloom in this season as well. Fall bulbs are especially exciting because they will spring to life, just as you think that everything is dying, adding renewed colour and life to your garden. Fall-blossoming bulbs are mainly planted in late summer or early fall, the exceptions being magic lilies and naked ladies, which need to be planted in early summer. Beautiful fall flowers include naked ladies, magic lilies, and hardy cyclamen.
Winter: Take your bulb growing experiments indoors during the winter months and try forcing bulbs to grow in pots, or simply in water, to provide your home with marvelous life and colour all winter long. Bulbs that are great to grow indoors include hyacinth, paperwhite narcissus, and crocus. Learn more about forcing bulbs indoors by reading, Indoor Blooms: The Art of Forcing Bulbs.
· Buy your bulbs early in the season. If you wait to long they could dry out in the stores.
· Plant bulbs as soon as possible after purchasing. If you can’t for some reason, store them in a cool, dark place until you can.
· Plant a ground cover around your bulbs in a complimentary colour, not only will it look beautiful while your bulbs are in full bloom, but it will help to disguise the withering shoots when flowering is over.
· Discard forced bulbs after they have bloomed. These bulbs have expended too much energy growing faster than naturally intended and will not flower again next year.
· Don’t plant bulbs in swampy soil, this can cause them to rot.
· Don’t worry if there is a tiny bit of bluish mold on tulips or hyacinths, this is quite normal. Of course, never buy a bulb that is completely covered in mold!
· Don’t put summer bulbs in the refrigerator to store them. While spring bulbs are fine in the fridge, it’s just too cold for the summer bulbs!
· Don’t ever remove the dying growth from your bulbs until it has turned completely yellow. The bulb stores energy from the withering shoot so that it can grow again next year.