Spring bulbs celebrate the spirit of growth, the faith in beauty, and the belief in renewal that all gardeners cherish in their hearts. Just imagine it! Those odd-looking, brown-papery, oniony-like things that you are planting now are going to grow into delicate, colorful, gorgeous blooms in your spring garden!
In spring, when bulbs’ first tender, green growth pushes up after winter’s season of rest and renewal, the cycle of growth begins all over again. The vivid purple of crocus, the delicate whites of snowdrops, the deep yellow of daffodils soon give way to a proud, strong rainbow of colors delivered by the tulips and hyacinths. Bulbs provide an instant, full-blown, colorful symphony that appears as if by magic.
The magic, however, begins now. Find spaces in between your perennials and fill them with bulbs. It’s fun to plant lots of different kinds—crocus, snowdrops, daffodils, grape hyacinths, tulips, hyacinths. Choose early-bloomers, middle-bloomers, and late-bloomers within each family of flowers for a changing palette of color in your garden all springtime long—all without lifting a finger or digging in still-chilly soil!
Plant combinations both of flowers and of colors that make your heart sing. The contrast of delicate blossoms peeping out from under bigger blooms makes an especially effective presentation, such as early white anemone planted with early-flowering red tulips. There are single bulbs that produce multiple blooms. Plant one and pick five—It’s like having an instant bouquet!
You want to plant in groups, this is the way bulbs grow in their natural state. Some people choose to plant in groups of three, five, or seven. Other people open a bag of bulbs, toss them on the ground, and plant them where they land. Some plant individual bulbs in individual holes, and some clear a single large space and plant a bunch of bulbs at a time.
Oftentimes, gardeners wonder if they are planting the bulbs correctly—at the right depth, facing the right direction, at the right time. Don’t worry. It’s easy. Most all bulbs come with directions for planting, but the rule of thumb is easy to remember: Plant at a depth that is roughly two and a half times the size of the bulb. Planting need not be exact. If you get them anywhere near where they’re supposed to be, bulbs will nestle down to the depth that makes them happy and set about the business of showing you their “stuff”—their vibrant, bouncy, colorful growth just when you’re most ready to be reminded of the promise your garden holds. As to direction, pointy ends go up, and—if you can’t tell which end is up, plant the bulb on its side, and it will do the rest! As to timing, you have a lot of leeway, because the ground in fall remains warm far longer than the air does. Most area suppliers won’t put bulbs out for sale until it’s time to plant, so that can be your clue.
If you want bulbs to return year after year, feed them. The bulb that you place in the ground in autumn contains a fully-developed plant within it—needing nothing but soil for cover and water to drink. But as soon as that bulb puts out roots in your garden, it is working on next year’s growth, and you’ll want to ensure bloom in other years. Start with a good send-off of bulb food at the time of fall planting. Scratch it into the soil under the bulb when you plant, putting a layer of soil between the food and the bulb.
This will encourage a great foundation of roots to reach deep and feed well. Sprinkle plant food solution on the leaves as well as the soil, when leaves have completely pushed up but before the bulb has bloomed. The second feeding should be done after flowering. And the third feeding is most effective two weeks after flowering. These will aid in the manufacture of food reserves for the next year. After bloom, allow all foliage to remain until it turns yellow, and then cut it down.
By the time you’ve experienced the heady success of a spring bulb display, you’ll want to explore what else can be done with bulbs. The summer bulbs—such as alliums, lilies, dahlias, and gladiolas—will carry you further along the gardening learning curve with little effort and lush growth. All seasons have bulbs to help the garden, although they may be called corms, or tubers, or rhizomes. From spring crocus to autumn crocus, you’re sure to be enchanted.
Planting bulbs is like putting a message in a bottle—people will get the message later, and there’s no telling how many hearts you will touch with your efforts. But touch them you will, and beauty will live on because of your caring—and bulbs.