Although spring is many months away, it is the time of year that gardeners must think ahead to spring if they want to be rewarded with the first flowers of the season, from bulbs that are planted in the fall months. Spring flowering bulbs consist of many species such as tulips, hyacinths, snowdrops, daffodils, crocus even irises. These bulbs must endure a period of cold (winter season) while in the ground, in order to, activate their growth pattern when the soil warms. Many gardeners do not plant bulbs because they think it is difficult and requires a lot of work. There are only a few easy steps for the successful planting of spring bulbs and the results are very rewarding. Follow these guidelines and you will have a garden full of spring blooms.
When buying bulbs I recommend buying bulbs from your local nursery or from a reputable mail order supplier. Most of the available bulbs come from Holland. Beware of those bargain bags of bulbs from the large chain retailers, as these are the lower grade bulbs that are packaged in bulk and sold for less money. These bulbs are often smaller than ones of a higher grade (sold at the nursery or mail order catalogue), they can be mouldy or harbour diseases, and may or may not bloom in the spring. If they do actually bloom the flowers will be small and of low quality and unable to renew themselves for the next spring season. So how do you avoid this problem? At nurseries or mail order catalogues the bulbs are of a higher grade. If you are able to select the bulbs yourself, I always say pick the bulbs that look good enough to eat, just like when you buy fresh produce at the market. You wouldn’t buy a moldy onion or a rotten plum. Pick large and firm bulbs with a blemish free surface. Make sure their base where the roots come out is healthy looking and even better if there are some traces of roots showing.
Planting bulbs is relatively easy. The depth of planting depends on the size of the bulb. Measure the height of your bulb and times that number by 3. If you have a tulip bulb that is 5 centimetres high you must plant it 3 times as deep as it is high, so you would plant it 15 centimetres deep. A little deeper is okay but not too deep or they will not find the surface in the spring and too shallow can cause the bulbs to freeze too solid leading to rot in the spring. Some people plant their bulbs in rows others in a random fashion. I prefer to plant all of my flowers in a more natural fashion so I plant them in clumps. The fastest way to do this is to dig a hole as deep as needed for the bulbs and as big around as you need to hold all of the bulbs. Place the bulbs in the bottom of the hole, making sure the roots are facing down (flat dimple part – similar to an onion) and the top of the bulb (hooded part) is facing upright and then cover completely with soil. Bulbs should be spaced two times the width apart from each other in order to give them some growing space. And you are done. If you prefer to plant in straight rows follow this same technique by digging trenches in the same manner. Others plant in individual holes using a bulb planter or a soil drill bit. I find this too time consuming and prefer digging one larger hole and mass planting.
It is important to add fertilizer to the planting hole so the bulb has nutrients as its roots begin to grow. When planted early enough, bulbs will set out their roots this season, before the ground freezes so the better root system they develop, the better the plant will be next spring. There are many types of fertilizer that you can use for bulbs but what they all have in common is a high middle number (P – phosphorus) to ensure good root and flower production. Many companies market a fertilizer called Bulb Booster (or similar names) or you can also use bone meal or blood meal, but no need to buy a new fertilizer if you have some on hand (tomato food, transplant fertilizer, etc.) as long as the middle number is the highest. One thing to remember thought is at this time of year you should only use a granular or powdered fertilizer you add directly to the soil and not one that you mix with water. This allows the nutrients to stay with the bulb as it is needed.
With the nip in the air that last thing on your mind right now may be doing more gardening or planting but trust me, planting bulbs to have some early flowers in the spring are well worth the time, effort and cold fingers. Imagine how exciting it is to see flowers bloom shortly after the snow recedes in the spring.