Spring is a long way a way. But, a little flowering bulb planning now will give you an early flowering display in spring, just when you want winter to be over.
We wait all winter for the first purple crocus bloom to appear out of the old, white snow. This is a sure sign that winter is almost over, and warmer weather is on its way. In fall, a little planning, preparation, and planting of inspiring spring bulbs will give you that shot of hope.
Over 90% of the world’s bulbs are grown in Holland, and many come from the UK, too. The US is the largest importer of bulbs. Buy through a reputable nursery, online, or from a catalog. Many schools sell Holland bulbs as fundraisers this time of year.
Spring flowering bulbs must be planted in fall. When you buy them, they are dormant. They need the freeze of winter to break that dormancy and come to life.
Buy bulbs that are plump, solid, and healthy. They should not have soft spots or mold on them, both of which you will frequently find. The larger the bulbs are, the bigger the flower display you will get.
Decide where you are going to plant them, and how many you will need. You can buy them in packages or singly.
Prepare the soil for planting
Most bulbs prefer full sun. Because they flower before trees leaf out, you can put naturalized areas or bulb beds beneath your trees and shrubs.
Bulbs like well-drained soil. If they are waterlogged, they will rot. When the temperatures cool down in fall, and before the ground freezes, prepare a bed 12” deep, and add compost to the soil. Mix in bone meal (phosphorus) on the bottom where the roots have access to it.
Bulbs should be planted 2-3 times as deep as their width. Depth is important! If they are planted too deeply, they will not bloom. See this chart of planting depths and approximate bloom times.
Use bulbs to naturalize an area. To create a natural look, gently toss your bulbs in the air, and plant them where they land. Mix compost and bone meal in the hole, and plant the bulb at the proper depth.
Bulbs have a colorful impact when planted in groupings in flowerbeds. Dig out an area that will accommodate many bulbs. Mix in compost and bone meal, and place your bulbs a few inches apart at the right depth.
Label where they are so you don’t inadvertently dig them up in spring planting something else. You could even make a diagram of their locations.
Because bulbs have different flowering times, and need to be planted at different depths, you can layer them in the hole. Put the largest bulbs on the bottom, for example 8” deep, add soil, plant more bulbs at 6”, and so on. You will get a continuous show of color all spring.
Water in the freshly planted bulbs to remove air pockets, settle the soil, and help feed them. Add mulch after the ground is completely frozen. Then wait for spring! If the winter is very dry with no snow cover, water your plantings.
Flowering and spring maintenance
Bulb flowers are such a welcome sight after a cold winter! They will bring you joy for a couple of months, while your other flowering plants are getting started.
Once the flowers are done, the foliage must be allowed to die back naturally. The green leaves are putting food back into the bulb to give it nourishment and energy for the following year. As tempted as you are to cut the leaves back, don’t! If you think they are unsightly as they turn yellow and die, plant perennials or annuals around them to hide them.
When the leaves are completely dry, cut them off. If you want to divide your bulbs, or if you want to move them to another place for next year, now is the time to dig them up. Store them in a paper or mesh bag in a cool, dark, and dry place until planting time in fall. Label each variety.
The most common bulbs are tulips and daffodils. I like the ones that flower earliest, such as crocuses and snowdrops. The alliums put out a tall, globe shaped flower at the end of the season, like a grand finale.
Experiment with a few, and add more as the years go on. Your spring flowering bulb gardens will be something to look forward to as winter takes its toll on you.
Check out this informative list of spring flowering bulbs to get inspired!