Thursday, October 2, 2014

Bring on the Bulbs!

Want some early-spring bloomers to help you embrace warming temperatures and longer days next year? Now is the time to put on an embarrassing high school sweatshirt and plop down in the dirt with some bad-ass bulbs. Oh, and don't forget the power tool.

My bulb-planting station last weekend: two kinds off Allium bulbs, a sharp trowel, power tool and planting guide
I've been getting a lot of questions from friends about bulb planting, so this blog post will be based on all of the questions that I've heard lately. I've planted summer and fall-blooming bulbs in the spring (Gladiolas and Crocus), but this is my first experience with spring-blooming bulbs, so all of the following information comes from a lot of research and just a little bit of experience. If you've been reading my blog even a little, you should be used to this by now.

When should I plant my spring-blooming bulbs?
When low temperatures start dipping into the 40's and threaten to sink into the 30's, it's time to get your fall planting into gear. You want to get them in the ground before it freezes solid, and after the leaves start falling. The end of September and pretty much all of October are generally a good time to plant both hardy perennials and spring-blooming bulbs-- even if we have an epic snowfall or two, which is bound to happen here on the Front Range of Colorado.

What kind of conditions do bulbs like?
Depends on the type, but there is a saying that "bulbs don't like to get their feet wet", which means that they don't like to be sitting in wet conditions. Yes, that's actually a saying, and yes I'm a nerd.  It means that they don't like water-retaining, slow-draining soil like clay, and they shouldn't be planted in areas that tend to hold water, like the bottom of hills. I am trying to defy nature by planting some bulbs in both conditions this year, so I'll tell you in the Spring how that worked out for me.I figured we don't get enough rain in these parts to worry about too much moisture, but still, probably not the smartest thing I've done.

Tulips love sun, Ipheion can handle a lot of shade, Allium and Daffodils like both, and Muscari (Hyacinth) will grow pretty much anywhere you drop the bulbs. The bag of bulbs will tell you what kind of sun they need. Keep in mind that the early-spring sun conditions will be different in your garden than in mid-summer (Science!), so plan your planting accordingly.

There is no need to fertilize your bulbs when you plant them -- the bulb itself is an energy-storing device that provides plenty of food to get the bulb growing when the time comes (again, Science!).

How do I plant them? And how deep?
Power tools! You don't need an electric screwdriver to plant bulbs, but it's a lot cooler if you use one. A couple of years ago, I bought this sweet oversized-corkscrew attachment that you use in an electric screwdriver to create holes in the ground for bulbs. It makes planting bulbs a little easier, but really I just use it because it makes me feel powerful. If you aren't lucky enough to have this, just use a gardening trowel and your hands to make space for the bulb.

Most bulbs need to be planted down to 2 to 4 inches, and the large bulbs need to be planted down to 6 to 8 inches. The bag of bulbs should say right on it what it needs, but if you aren't sure, you should be safe in the 4-inch range unless you have a very large bulb.
Bulb depth planting guide.

Starting an 8-inch hole for large Allium "Mount Everest" bulbs. I dug the hole deeper with a trowel and my finger(nail)s.
As for spacing, I noticed that all of the bags would say how many bulbs to put in a square foot, not how many inches apart they should be, like regular perennials. That's because you can plant some bulbs right next to each other. Bulbs per square foot can range from 3 for large bulbs to 16 for small bulbs. Taking all of the bulbs I planted this fall into account, I'd say a safe average is 10 per square foot. The huge Allium bulbs I planted, called "Mount Everest," are a rare type of bulb that needs to be planted deep and given space.

What kind of bulbs did you plant this year?
This is a common question between gardeners, and you'll need an answer if you want to join our cool-kids club.

I planted two kinds of Tulips together:

"Little Princess"

Two kinds of Allium (a.k.a. Ornamental Onion):


"Mount Everest"

I planted two miniature species together:

Mini Iris "Harmony"

Mini Daffodil "Tete-a-Tete"

 And, I planted white Ipheion in my shady, already Hyacinth-filled flower bed by our front door:

Ipheion "Alberto Castillo"

Muscari "Grape Hyacinth"

What bulbs did you plant?

1 comment:

  1. I love your bulb choices! Can't wait until they start popping up next year!