How to Grow Bold and Beautiful Bulbs

To get your flower bulbs to bloom in the spring, start planting in the fall.
By: Maureen Gilmer
Purple, Yellow, and Red Flower Garden

Purple, Yellow, and Red Flower Garden

Spring bulbs are counterintuitive. Our internal calendar tells us to plant in May, not September. To get those first brilliant blooms of spring, now is the time to buy, plant and forget.

Buy Lots of Bulbs

There are golden rules that ensure success for bulbs. Folks tend to buy six or eight, and when spring comes they look small and insignificant in the midst of the barren garden. Splurge and buy 20, 40 or 60 to get that eye-popping display you covet from magazine pages. It's better to buy too many than not enough.

Pay Attention to Color

Because people usually buy too few, they compensate by buying a bag of mixed colored bulbs. When this mix blooms, it's colorful but not dramatic. All the colors combine to create a confetti effect which isn't particularly striking. The trick is to buy fewer single colors. If you decide to buy 60 tulips, buy 20 of three different colors. Or you can try 30 each of two different colors. When planted these quantities produce a discernible zone of color that reads like a field rather than just a few individuals.

Buy Big Bulbs

In Holland where most big bulbs are grown, they sell by their circumference. Keep that in mind when shopping - look for big fat bulbs. If you go to the trouble of planting 60 bulbs, you want that effort to be rewarded with large showy plants and flowers. Buying from a catalog means you don't have the ability to compare sizes. You get what they send you. So be picky and choose only a reputable mail-order house that deals in top-quality stock.

Use Bulb-Planting Fertilizer

Inadequate nutrition is one reason that some bulbs seem to decline each year after you plant them. The bulbs you plant in fall have all the energy inside them to produce a whole plant. This was stored from last year under the growers' strict fertilizer regimen. Your soil probably won't have that kind of nutrition, so adding fertilizer ensures there's lots of food in the root zone. This is vital to aftercare, which too often goes neglected. Once flowers fade the plant will shift to a vegetative growth phase when the leaves work hard to produce enough food to store in the bulb for next year.

If you cut off the leaves and the plant declines, they may not bloom the second year. Help the leaves do their job by providing slow release fertilizer that goes right into the bulb for next year's show.

Invest in the Right Tools

To make fall planting easier, consider investing in a long handle bulb planting tool. The ubiquitous small ones are really tough on the wrist because you must insert and twist. That's OK for a dozen bulbs, but when you're talking quantity, the long handle is a lifesaver. It may be the only tool to use in hard or rocky soils because it's inserted by foot pressure just like a shovel.

After a long winter, nothing is more anticipated than spring tulips and narcissus. The fragrance and the color are probably more appreciated than any other plant in the garden. But you've got to plan ahead and plant now to reap such a harvest.

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