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Bulb Planting Tips and Tricks

 by Paul James

Bulb Planting Tips & Tricks

This Saturday morning at 10:00, none other than Piet Stuifbergen of Holland-based exporter Stuifbergen Bloembollen will be at Southwood to share his vast knowledge of bulbs with us. I don’t pretend to know what Piet knows, but I have successfully planted thousands of bulbs over the years, so I thought I’d give you a brief primer on bulb planting in advance, including a few of my favorite tips and tricks. First, the basics.

Spring-flowering bulbs arrive in stores (Southwood included) several weeks before the ideal planting time. That’s just the nature of the business, and has been for as long as I can remember. Consequently, it pays to shop early to ensure the best selection. The bulbs will be fine for several weeks if stored in the garage or other cool, dark spot.

Planting time varies from year to year, although typically it begins in October or, as a general rule of thumb, six weeks before the first hard freeze. Another suggestion is to simply wait until overnight temps are consistently in the 50s. I’ve planted as early as late September and as late as Thanksgiving in years past and achieved excellent results.

First and foremost, realize that bulbs don’t like wet feet, so make sure the planting area you have in mind drains well. Adding soil amendments won’t hurt, but it’s not always necessary. Plant large bulbs approximately eight-inches deep and small bulbs roughly five-inches deep. Always plant the pointed end up. If there’s no clearly defined pointed end, plant the bulb on its side and it’ll figure out which way to grow.

You can fertilize at planting time, but all the nutrients needed for growth are contained in the bulb itself. Fertilization is more important when early spring growth begins to emerge. After planting, water well, and give yourself a pat on the back.

In terms of where and how to plant, the possibilities are endless. However, here are some of my favorite approaches, beginning with companion plantings.

One of my favorite companion-planting techniques is to combine daffodils with daylilies. The daffodils come up first, then as the daylilies begin to grow, their foliage hides the fading daffodil foliage. And you get continuous blooms from both for weeks on end.

I also like the look of daffodils or tulips mixed with pansies, which results in a dazzling spring display.

What I don’t care for are bulbs planting in straight rows like soldiers on parade. Instead, I prefer swaths of several dozen bulbs. If you layer the planting area with tall bulbs in the back and short ones in front, you get a beautiful, cascading effect. And if you plant early-, mid-, and late-blooming varieties, you get weeks and weeks of eye-popping color.

Without question, my favorite look is the naturalized planting, and the best way to achieve that look is to place a few dozen mixed bulbs in a bag or bucket, toss them in the yard or garden bed, and plant them where they fall. It works great, and it’s pretty much foolproof. Give it a try.

 I’ll see you Saturday morning.

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