hile it may not bring the instant gratification of planting flowering annuals in the spring, gently pushing bulbs into the cold soil this late in the season—with the anticipation of beauty in the spring—can be kind of thrilling.
Bulb planting is, sadly, not as popular as it once was. Newer gardeners may wonder why we spend time planting something that might only be in bloom for just a few weeks? But that’s what makes them special, as we wait patiently for their appearance and celebrate their arrival, knowing they will always return to show off their beauty.
It’s important to choose a site that dries out in the summer. If impatiens are planted on top of fading tulips, to mask the declining foliage, the water used to keep the impatiens happy will drown the bulbs below.
To get bulbs in the ground, you need to dig a hole that’s three times the length of the bulb you’re planting. That makes small bulbs easier to plant than larger varieties like daffodils, and there are lots of different varieties of flowers with small bulbs.
To make the job fun and easy, a tool called a bulb auger is essential. A bulb auger is a giant drill bit attached to a power drill. You can plant 100 bulbs in 20 minutes and with the auger attached to a power drill, the proper depth is attained without a problem.
I believe garden tools should be passed on from one generation to the next, and the Power Planter 3-by-7-inch auger is built to last. Don’t settle for a cheaper version as they rarely stand up to the job. (No one is paying me to say that. It’s what I use.)
An auger this size is perfect for planting solo. The gardener is on her knees with a bag of bulbs beside her, drilling and planting. A longer auger works well for a two-person operation. One person makes the hole and the other drops in the bulb and covers it with the soil brought up by the auger.
Snowdrops are one of the first flowers to bloom. I’ve had them put on their show anywhere from January 15 to March 15, depending on the winter. They will bloom a little earlier when planted near the house. The tiny white blooms would be insignificant emerging in July, but so early in the season, snowdrops will make any gardener do a winter dance in celebration of the unofficial start of the gardening season.
Flore Pleno has small, pretty double flowers that are only a quarter-inch across. The blooms droop downward, so they can be picked, turned upside down and floated in water indoors so the rest of the family can see the flowers.
Winter aconite also blooms in late winter with low-growing yellow flowers; quite a sight during a winter thaw.
Glory of snow, another low grower, with blue flowers, has never been touched by the deer in my garden. Start with 25 bulbs and in a few years you will have hundreds. Look for its bloom to follow the crocuses. Violet Beauty has deep purple flowers and will bloom in consort with puschkinia, which has creamy white flowers with blue stripes.
Tulips are another bulb that usually only hangs around for a few seasons. Many gardeners treat them as annuals, but the Darwin varieties can be long lasting, along with smaller species tulips.
Tulips are deer candy. The only way to grow tulips in deer country is to protect the flowers with a barrier or spray them religiously with repellent. My tulips grow in the vegetable garden, which is fenced to keep the deer out. I plant them where the tomatoes will be the next season. When the tulips fade, the tomato plants go in the ground.
Corydalis solida Beth Evans blooms at the same time with lots of dark pink flowers. When looking for something unique for the spring garden, consider this easy-to-grow plant.
Early blooming crocus needs protection from the deer too, usually with a few applications of deer repellent. The early spring garden would not be the same without them. Snow crocus will emerge after just a few days of warm sun and then could be covered with one of the last blankets of snow, but they’re pretty resilient.
Next to bloom are the magnificent daffodils. They welcome spring with their cheery blooms and once they flower, there’s no turning back—the season has officially begun. Daffodils don’t have to be yellow trumpets; there are 13 different types, called divisions, everything from tiny white flowers to regal orange and yellow doubles like Tahiti.
Every spring garden needs hyacinths, with their intoxicating fragrance. One cut flower will fill the house with the wonderful aroma. A bed of 20 outside an open window makes spring even sweeter. Hyacinths usually last a few seasons, then fade away, but that’s OK—planting more bulbs every fall ensures the heavenly scented flowers will be there in late April.
Bulbs are on sale now as the season winds down and many gardeners don’t realize that there’s still time to plant. You can plant bulbs until the ground freezes solid. Last year I worked on a project at the South Park Theater to add 1,000 daffodils, which were planted in early January, just in the nick of time. The display in April for the grand opening of the renovation was a hit.
Start locally to find the bulbs you want to plant. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, there are some great online sources. It’s important to use a trusted source who sells good sized bulbs that will bloom the first spring after planting.
Planting bulbs now is a great way to enhance the garden this spring and for years to come.
Doug’s favorite bulb sites
Brent and Becky’s Bulbs is a great source for bulbs. Brent Heath is a third generation bulbsman and has taught me much of what I know about bulbs. The quality and prices are great.
Van Engelen Wholesale Flower Bulbs offers bulk quantities of bulbs at a reduced price.
Old House Gardens sells wonderful heirloom cultivars that have stood the test of time. Their lily collection is unmatched for beauty and fragrance. I grow ‘Black Beauty,’ ‘Regal,’ ‘Golden Splendor’ and others from the company.