Essential tips for planting bulbs

Snowdrops and crocuses can be counted on to be among the first speckles of spring color in the garden, sometimes even pushing up through snow, and probably no flowers are more associated with spring than daffodils and tulips. Spring is the season that we most associate with flowering bulbs, but if you want to enjoy their colorful blooms then, you need to get them planted months before that. Here are six key points for success:

1. Plant in the fall

Spring-flowering bulbs need time to establish roots before the ground freezes, then a cold period to prepare them to bloom in spring when the soil warms up. That means planting in late September or early October in the colder climates, as late as November or early December in warmer regions.

2. Plant in randomly arranged clusters for natural effect

For maximum impact, plant bulbs in masses rather than in straight rows. When planting large clusters of bulbs, it may be easier to dig out the area to planting depth, place the bulbs, then spread the soil back over the planted area.

3. Plant in well-drained, amended soil

Bulbs must be planted in soil that drains quickly, and they grow best in soil amended with plenty of organic matter. You can use individual soil amendments such as sphagnum peat moss, organic compost, or manure – or a pre-mixed product.

4. Plant pointy side up, at proper depth

A rule of thumb is to plant bulbs with their base at a depth equal to three times their height. That means planting small bulbs (the size of a U.S. quarter or less) at about 5 inches and anything larger at about 8 inches. Place the bulb in the hole with the rounded base firmly in contact with the soil below.

5. Protect against rodent damage

Squirrels, chipmunks and other rodents may find your bulbs and dig them up before you even see them bloom the first time. Cats can be effective in scaring away the rodents, and there are a number of rodent-repelling products available at your local garden center. But for severe problems, you can encase your bulbs in a wire mesh cage. One-inch chicken wire works well, allowing bulb shoots and roots to grow right through while keeping the rodents out.

6. Feed twice a year

When you plant your bulbs in the fall, add bone meal or a high-phosphorus plant food  to the soil at the bottom of the hole. Phosphorus is the most important nutrient for root and bulb development. Previously planted bulbs should also be fed in the fall. Follow up in the spring after shoots appear, but before they bloom, with a feeding of a complete plant food.

Properly planted, protected, and fed, hardy spring-flowering bulbs will produce new flowers year after year…making them a garden investment that pays dividends many times over.