Planting Bulbs

Planting spring-flowering bulbs is easy. The hardest part may be deciding which flowers and how many to plant in your garden.

daffodil 'Love Call'

Daffodil 'Love Call'

Daffodils like ‘Love Call’, sometimes called jonquils or narcissus, are the birth flowers for March. Because they often bloom in early spring, they symbolize new birth, beginnings, happiness and joy.

Photo by: Longfield Gardens

Longfield Gardens

Materials Needed

  • high-quality bulbs
  • trowel or bulb-planting tool
  • shovel
  • bulb fertilizer
  • mulch
  • water and nozzle

Step 1: When to Plant

The best time to plant spring-flowering bulbs depends on where you live. Ideally, wait until the soil temperature is below 60°F. As a general guide, plant in September through early October if you live in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 or 5; October to early November in zones 6 or 7; and November to early December in zones 8 and 9. Plant bulbs that have been refrigerated for 8 to 10 weeks in late December to early January in zone 10.

Step 2: Where to Plant

Bulbs grow best in a location with full sun. Choose planting beds where bulb foliage will receive at least 6 hours of sun during spring through summer. Most bulb species also prefer well-drained, not soggy, soil.

Step 3: Ideas for Plantings

Plant "mild-winter" tulip species that thrive in zones 8 through 10, such as the lady tulip (T. clusiana), the Candia tulip (T. saxatilis), and the Florentine tulip (T. sylvestris). These tulips do not need chilling before planting. Or try layering two different species, such as tulips and grape hyacinths, in the same bed for exciting color combinations. Plant tulips first, then add enough soil to achieve the proper depth for the grape hyacinths. Plant the grape hyacinths between the tulips.

Step 4: Dig Holes

Dig individual bulb holes or one wide hole to plant groups of bulbs. Digging up the whole bed makes bulb spacing, layering, and soil amending easier. The depth of the hole should equal three to four times the bulb height. For example, dig a 6- to 8-inch-deep hole for a 2-inch-high bulb. To discourage voles or gophers, add a handful of sharp gravel to the planting hole or plant bulbs in wire or fabric baskets. Don't mulch where rodents are a problem.

Step 5: Arrange Bulbs

Tulip Bulbs For Planting

Tulip Bulbs

Choose healthy tulip bulbs that are firm and dry. The papery wrapper should be intact. With bulbs, you get what you pay for—bigger is better.

Photo by: Steven Bemelman for iBulb.org

Steven Bemelman for iBulb.org

Set the bulbs in a planting bed or in separate planting holes with their roots or basal plate downward. Space bulbs according to supplier's recommendations. In general, smaller bulbs are planted closer together than larger bulbs. Fill the planting hole with soil and firm it gently.

Step 6: Water and Mulch

Water the bulbs right after planting to help initiate growth. In mild-winter areas, mulch right after planting to help keep soil cool and moist. Apply mulch after soil freezes in cold-winter areas to prevent the ground from heaving during winter thaws and pushing the bulbs too close to the surface.

Step 7: Fertilize

Each autumn, maintain existing tulip and hyacinth plantings by sprinkling 1/2 cup of 9-9-6 fertilizer per 10 square feet. Daffodils and snowdrops thrive on a 5-10-20 mixture. Three-fourths cup of 5-10-12 mix per 10 square feet works on any type of bulb. First-year bulbs don't need fertilizer.

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