Autumn is the time for planting the bulbs that will burst into bloom come spring.
Sure, it’s delayed gratification, but the cheery appearance of crocuses and daffodils at the end of a bleak winter will be worth the wait.
And here’s the best part: Planting spring bulbs doesn’t take a lot of effort. You dig a hole, you drop in the bulb, and you cover it with soil.
That’s the message Dutch bulb growers are trying to get out with their new campaign, Dig.Drop.Done.
“They’re so easy to plant. They come with everything they need for the first growing season,” says Amy Dube, a flower bulb expert with the Dig.Drop.Done Foundation, an educational effort being backed by members of Holland’s Royal Trade Association for Nursery Stock and Flower Bulbs. “You really can’t go wrong.”
Flower bulbs contain all the nutrients the plant will need to grow and bloom the first year, so there’s no need to fertilize newly planted bulbs, Dube says. And because rain is usually plentiful in fall, you probably won’t even need to water, other than giving the bulbs a good drink when you first plant them.
Bulb experts usually recommend planting bulbs when nighttime temperatures drop into the low 50s or 40s for two weeks. There’s no real need to monitor the weather, though. When it’s sweater weather, it’s time to plant, says Sally Ferguson, director of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center.
In Ohio, October and November are ideal bulb-planting months, says Ann McCulloh, curator of plant collections for Cleveland Botanical Garden. Ideally you want to plant once the soil cools but before the first hard frost, although you can even plant in December as long as you can still dig, she says.
Even if you’re not ready to plant, McCulloh recommends buying bulbs as early as you can. If you wait too long, your favorites might be gone, she says. Look for bulbs that are firm, and keep them in a cool, dark place until you put them in the ground.
Don’t fret if the papery skin is broken or missing, Ferguson says. It won’t affect the bulb’s survival.
Choose a planting spot where the soil drains well, since bulbs might rot in conditions that are too wet. Spring-flowering bulbs like sun, but you can plant under trees or shrubs that will still be bare of leaves when the flowers bloom, Dube says.
Some people like to scatter early bloomers such as crocuses on a lawn and just plant them where they drop, knowing they’ll bloom well before the grass needs cutting.
The rule of thumb is the planting hole should be about three times the length of the bulb, but it’s best to follow the instructions on the packaging, Dube says. You can dig individual holes for each bulb, or dig a wider hole or trench that can hold a number of bulbs.
The bulb should be planted pointy side up, but that’s not crucial. The emerging shoot will find its way up and out of the soil, even if you plant the bulb upside down, Dube says.
Mulch is a good idea, but Ferguson recommends waiting until the ground gets cold before adding it. Otherwise, “you’re just creating a warm bed for little voles and mice,” which might snack on your bulbs, she says.
McCulloh thinks bulbs look best planted in drifts or masses rather than in lines. Plant at least 25, if you have the room, she says.
Ferguson likes to plant in a diamond shape, with the point toward the viewing area. That gives an illusion of abundance, she explains.
But stay away from patterns that are too strictly geometric, McCulloh cautions. “Guaranteed one won’t come up, and it’ll ruin the whole design,” she comments.
Consider planting with perennials that share similar growing requirements and will leaf out as the bulbs’ foliage dies back, McCulloh and Dube suggest. The perennials will hide the fading leaves, which need to be left in place until they’ve yellowed. That allows the plants to use the sun’s energy to recharge the bulbs with nutrients for the next year.
Some bulbs, such as daffodils and crocuses, can be counted on to reappear and spread year after year. Others, including most kinds of tulips, are better treated as annuals, since they get smaller with each reappearance.
Which bulbs should you plant?
Whatever flowers and colors you like, the experts say.
McCulloh, for instance, is partial to glory-of-the-show, a charming flower that blooms early and comes in pink, white and a vibrant blue she loves. Dube plans to combine pink and orange this year, but she also likes the striking combination of white and black—well, really a very dark purple.
It just depends on what says renewal to you.
2011 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)