As soon the calendar turns to September and fall is in the air, I start thinking about the next gardening season! I have finished renovating most of the gardens on my to-do list and I know there are some open spots where I can plant fall bulbs. After a long northern winter, I really look forward to the happy faces of spring flowering bulbs.
I know it is too early to plant bulbs, but it’s certainly time to plan for spring colour and buy while the selection is good. Spring blooming bulbs should be planted once the soil is consistently cool so that they form robust roots but do not sprout. In our area, that tends to be mid to late October.
The key to having a successful bulb display is to understand that each type of bulb has its own time of bloom. Snowdrops, crocuses, tulips, and hyacinths are some of the earliest ones brightening up the garden.
Snowdrops bloom as soon as the snow starts to disappear. Next to bloom are crocus, glory-of-the-snow (Chionodxa), scilla plus early narcissus and tulips.
Once the early bulbs are fading away, grape hyacinths, mid-season to late tulips and daffodils will put on a garden show.
Alliums, which are in the ornamental onion family, flower from mid-May into July depending on the variety.
With proper planning, you can have four months of flowering from a variety of hardy bulbs. However, if you are a new gardener or are overwhelmed by the idea of organizing your planting for succession blooms, bulb companies have made the task easy for you. Packages and tags give information about bloom time, identifying them as early, mid-season, late or summer flowering. Information is also given for planting depth, spacing and light requirements.
To make choice easy, some bulbs are packaged together to offer you a collection that blooms at the same time for a complimentary colour display. Big colour pictures on the labels show you exactly what you are getting.
Once you have chosen the bulbs, store them in a cool, dark spot in the house until late fall. While you are waiting for the ground to be cool enough for planting, you can weed beds, move or divide perennials and add compost to your gardens.
When you are ready to plant, loosen the ground in the garden thoroughly. Add some compost to enrich the soil if you have not already checked that off your to-do list. Dig a planting hole the correct depth for the type of bulb you have. As a guideline, plant the bulb twice as deep as it is tall. Generally, large bulbs such as tulips and daffodils go down 6 to 8 inches and small bulbs about 3 to 5 inches. Check your package for exact information.
Spacing may depend on the effect you are trying to achieve. For a casual, natural display, use uneven spacing. If you want a formal look, keep the distance between bulbs consistent. Large bulbs are spaced about 5 inches apart and small ones 2 to 3 inches.
Work transplanting fertilizer or bulb food into the bottom of the hole and scuff it into the earth as you plant. This will help bulbs establish healthy roots. Set bulbs in an upright position, firm soil around them and water well.
If rainy weather does not continue, be sure to water until the ground freezes, but keep in mind that bulbs do not like ‘wet feet’. They can rot easily. If you have clay soil throughout your yard, make sure they are positioned in a well-drained area.
If by chance you forget to get your bulbs into the ground in late fall, don’t worry. I have scraped away an early snowfall and planted my bulbs. They still bloomed well in the spring.