Planting Flower Bulbs

Readers are going to get really tired of me telling them how easy planting flower bulbs really is. 

There are several questions that seem to come to mind when planting flower bulbs. 

How Deep Do I Plant Bulbs?

There's all kind of fancy answers to this question and all kinds of graphics in books but the long and short of it (and the easy of it) is that if it is a tulip, plant it five inches deep. 

If it is smaller than a tulip, plant it two to three inches deep. 

If it is bigger than a tulip, plant it eight inches deep. 

I've planted tulips from three inches to three feet deep (seriously) to see what would happen. They all bloomed well the first year but the shallow-planted ones didn't last as long as the more-deeply planted ones. I think something ate them the second fall/winter because they were just at vole and chipmunk level.

And remember that this isn't rocket science. A inch or two here or there isn't cause for alarm. 

tulips in the landscape

When Do I Plant?

In general, plant bulbs four to six weeks before the ground freezes in your area. For example, here in USDA zone 4, I plant my bulbs in mid to late October because I want the bulbs to be able to send out roots and establish themselves before freezeup in late November.

Just decide when your ground freezes for the winter (no more plant growth) and back that date up six weeks.

Hyacinth 'Amsterdam'

Hyacinth 'Amsterdam'

Planting Too Early

I never begin planting flower bulbs in September because there's a good chance that the bulbs will, once they've set roots, decide to grow a bit and send up a shoot out of the bulb. (Nobody said bulbs knew where they were planted)

This shoot may be frozen off in November and will not regrow in May when I want it to. The bulb dies.  If the bulb flowers in the fall, it will not rebloom in the the spring.

If you plant too early, you run the risk of the bulbs growing and then dying. This is particularly bad in a warm fall when winter doesn't come on time. 

What Tools Do I Need

Well, if I don't have too many bulbs to plant, I use a shovel. I ram the blade into the hole, push forward on the handle to slightly lift the soil and create a hole at the back of the blade. I drop the bulb or bulbs if they are small down this crevice and pull the shovel out of the soil. I then stomp on the crevice to seal it. 

I have also been known to use a bulb auger when I had more than a handful of bulbs to plant. This tool goes on the end of a power drill and makes life ever so much easier and fun. I can plant bulbs about five times faster with a drill auger than I can by using a shovel. If you have 50 or more bulbs, you'll fall in love with the auger. 

Tulip 'Scarlet Baby'

Tulip 'Scarlet Baby'

Which Side Up?

Nope. Never worried about it.

The bulbs never complained a bit. And gardeners who emphasize having to do this have never seen commercial machines planting flower bulbs in operation. Imagine planting millions of bulbs and trying to turn each one root-side-down. 

The bulbs know.

When I grew gladiola commercially, I used to plow a furrow with the tractor, walk along the furrow with a bag of glad corms tossing them in at approximately the right distance. Then I'd run the tractor back down the furrow and roll the soil back in on top of the glads. Not pretty, but really effective when you're planting 10,000 glad bulbs. 

If you're a bit compulsive about it remember to plant bulbs "pointy side" up. I never do.

What About Feeding Bulbs When You Plant?

Do not toss commercial fertilizer down the hole. Tender bulb roots coming in contact with commercial fertilizer salts might be burned and then you've set your bulbs back or killed them. Bulbs will do fine with a yearly feeding of compost.. 

And do not put bone meal down the hole when planting flower bulbs. 

It won't hurt the plant but it will encourage four-legged beasties to dig up the bulbs. The smell of bone meal is like a scent marker that shouts "Dig Here !" to animals. 

Yeah, I know some folks tell you to put fertilizer down the hole but then again, maybe they're trying to sell you fertilizer. 

And those are the basics of planting flower bulbs

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