The other day, I was looking at bulbs for sale in Lowes and thought that a column on planting bulbs would be timely. The nice thing about bulbs is that they give and keep on giving year after year. Perhaps more than any other group of hardy bulbs, crocuses, anemones, winter aconites and other tiny spring flowering bulbs are the first to brighten your spring garden view.
Tucked into small patches among later flowering perennials, or planted in groups along garden paths, little bulbs can be massed for a big effect and can be staged to blossom from late January to early June.
Because little bulbs are so small and usually so expensive, they are sometimes overlooked by ambitious gardeners who are now color coordinating their beds with tulips and narcissus for next year’s display. Narcissus, however, can be finicky and tulips often languish after a few years. But little bulbs, if left undisturbed, just get better and better.
Here are a few tips for success with bulbs.
▪ Buy and plant only large, firm well-cured bulbs free of blemishes. If you are dividing a patch, discard any that are moldy or rotted.
▪ Plant bulbs in a deep, well-drained and light-textured soil that has a pH of between 6.5-7. Choose a sunny location with good air circulation. Bulbs planted in heavy clay soils with poor drainage rot easily before they develop.
▪ Plant now so there is enough time for roots to develop and become established before the ground freezes.
▪ If your soil is hard, break up clumps and add several shovels of compost for each 50 square feet of planting area.
▪ If the area has not been fertilized recently, add about 2 pounds of 5-10-5 analysis fertilizer for each 50 square feet. Too much fertilizer reduces flower production.
▪ Set little bulbs so that tips are about 3-4 inches below the soil surface.
▪ Tamp the bottom of the planting holes firmly so there are no air pockets under the bulbs. Add a pinch of sand to improve the growing medium for newly developing roots.
▪ Water well after planting to help move fertilizer into the soil and to settle the bulbs. Do not soak or the bulbs may rot.
▪ If small animals are a problem, cover your bulb area with hardware cloth until the soil freezes. Then add a layer of mulch to prevent drying.
▪ Label bulbs for easy reference next spring.
Good luck with your bulb planting and get ready to enjoy their beauty next spring.
Bill Lamont is professor emeritus of vegetable crops in the department of plant science at Penn State and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.