In the fall, as the days get shorter and the leaves start to dress themselves in autumn colours, gardeners everywhere are busy planting bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and crocus. And no wonder. With only a few guidelines to follow, planting bulbs is a cinch and they reward you with a stunning display of colour in the spring.
Where to Plant
Though most bulbs prefer a sunny location, you can still plant them under trees. When the bulbs bloom in spring the leaves of deciduous trees (such as Maple, Oak, Elm, Aspen, and Birch) are usually not yet fully out, so your bulbs will still get plenty of sunlight.
How to Plant
To get maximum impact, don’t plant them in a straight line or dot them here and there in the garden. Instead, arrange bulbs in groupings of 5 to 9 or more. You can get more from your garden space by layering bulbs according to bloom time and depth requirements. This is sometimes called the “lasagna” method of planting. For example, the same area of soil can hold crocuses in the top 13 cm (five inches), hyacinths at 16 cm (six inches) deep and daffodils and tulips at about 20 cm (eight inches) down. In an ideal spring, you can have blooms from late April to early June.
Fertilizing your Bulbs
Bulbs already come with all the food they need, at least enough for the first season of bloom. But, most gardeners want their bulbs to re-bloom annually so it’s a good idea to add fertilizer at planting time. Choose a balanced, controlled release bulb food so that next spring when the bulb is rejuvenating after it blooms the fertilizer kicks in.
It’s important to let bulb foliage “die back” naturally for six weeks after before cutting back their leaves, because the leaves store food for the following year’s bloom. But, dying foliage can be unsightly and discourages some gardeners from bothering with bulbs at all. There are a few ways to get around this. You can plant the bulbs in large plastic pots, sink them into the ground and cover them with a few inches of soil. After they bloom in the spring, simply dig them up and tuck them out of sight where the leaves can mature and nourish the bulbs for next year. The space left in the garden can be planted with annuals. Come fall you can re-sink the bulb pots and start all over again. Another strategy is to pair bulbs with perennials. As the perennial’s leaves emerge they camouflage the bulb foliage as it dies back. Try a bed of pink tulips under planted with blue forget-me-nots, yellow tulips under planted with pansies or another combo might be blue Scilla campanulata (Spanish bluebells) with yellow daffodils.
Some bulbs, including tulips and crocus are a favourite food for squirrels. Others, such as daffodils, fritillaria, alliums and many of the minor bulbs (scilla, chionodoxa, leucojum, galanthus, etc.) are not quite as appealing. If squirrels are a nuisance, put chicken wire over the bulbs. It can be left in place all winter and bulbs bloom right through it in spring. Be sure to clean up after planting because the papery bits left on the ground is a signal to critters that there is likely buried treasure nearby.
Five Bulbs to Try:
Angelique (Tulip): A late spring fragrant tulip with huge, peony-like blooms in rose pink with a little whisper of green here and there. This bulb is hardy to Zone 3.
Carnaval de Nice (Tulip): A late spring double flowered tulip with snow-white petals and flashes of scarlet. This bulb is superb as a cut flower. This bulb is hardy to Zone 3.
Romance (Narcissus): An April blooming daffodil with apricot-pink cups frosted with yellow at the edges, and surrounded by contrasting creamy-white petals. This bulb is hardy to Zone 4.
Rip Van Winkle (Narcissus): A very old Narcissus with small golden "starbursts" that flower for many weeks. This is the latest blooming of the Narcissus. This bulb is hardy to Zone 4.
Ancyrensis (Crocus): Sometimes called "Golden Bunch". As soon as the snow melts a mass of bright, golden-orange blooms appear on each tiny 5cm. (2") plant. This bulb is hardy to Zone 4.