Fall is Bulb Planting Time – For Some Varieties

Flowers from bulbs can make a very beautiful bed, or can be a royal pain in the A**! Things have to be just right or the mountain of bulbs that you chose from a pile of catalogs, and finally ordered in the middle of Summer, will wind up being a waste of time and money.

Daffodils Blooming

Daffodils blooming in a mass planting landscape bed.

Often, 100’s of bulbs are planted in a bed, then you wait patiently for next Spring to see your bounty, and…..nothing, or very little bulb activity and lots of disappointment.

Bulbs are a little different than planting fresh live Spring Bedding plants. They are planted in Fall, for Spring bloomers, or in the Summer for Fall Bloomers, or planted in Spring for Summer bloomers. Live bedding plants are bought as a growing baby flower and planted to grow through the Spring, Summer and into Fall until the first frost.

Bulbs also like a well-drained soil, rich in organic matter. So that means in soil that doesn’t stay saturated with water and isn’t mostly clay. In our area of West TN, that means we have to amend the soil with organic material, mulch, potting soil, compost, or some other organic material that has completely decomposed.

Using a “green” material, (organic material that hasn’t completely decomposed) will cause more problems for your bed than good, so don’t use piles of fresh sawdust, wood chips, or fresh mulch that isn’t already very decomposed. As these materials go through the process of decomposing, they actually use nitrogen from the soil for their own use, and will create heat in the process. This is where the term “it’s too hot” comes from, when referring to mulching materials.

compost

Fresh compost from a home composter

Use only bagged goods that have already reached decomposition, or compost that has reached complete decomposition. Till the soil in these beds that bulbs will be planted in, using shovels or power equipment, if you have enough room. Till the soil first, then pour the amendments on the soil, till again to mix into the soil. Then plant.

Some common questions, and the answers to them are the following, from three bulb wholesale operations. If you need to know how to grow something, go to the source, someone who has been doing it for years. These three account for a major portion of the annual bulb sales in the US each year.

How can I keep daffodils blooming as perennials for a lot of years?

Plant them in full sun in well drained soil.

Before planting, add compost to the soil and top dress with more compost each fall. The addition of organic matter keeps the soil healthy and enables the bulbs to absorb the nutrients they need in addition to the nutrients acquired through photosynthesis.

Wait to cut the leaves when they begin to turn yellow when the photosynthesis is finished, which usually happens about 8 to 12 weeks after they finish blooming.

Keep artificial irrigation away from the area during the bulb’s summer dormancy. Hot weather makes the soil warm; adding water to warm soil around dormant bulbs can cause some to rot.

I have a garden that I want to continue blooming during the growing season, from spring through fall. How can I accomplish this?

Plant in layers:

  • Tulips, lilies, large alliums, camassia – 10 inches deep
  • Daffodils, Hyacinthus, Hyacinthoides, Leucojum, Muscari – 6 inches deep
  • Crocus, Anemones, Ipheion, Chionodoxa, Scilla – 3 inches deep

Plant companions on top of the bulbs; don’t worry, the bulbs will work their way around them.

  • Hemerocallis, Echinacea, Monarda, Phlox, Achillea, Asclepias, ornamental grasses – full sun
  • Lobelia, Thermopsis, groundcovers like Vinca minor, Ajuga, Lamium – part shade
  • Add long blooming annuals “under the arms” of the perennials in early summer.
  • Portulaca, marigolds, petunias – full sun
  • Geranium, Osteospermum – part shade
  • Begonia, caladium, coleus – shade
Fall bulb planting schedule

Fall Bulb Planting Schedule

Layering the bulbs, planting perennial companions in the same bed and adding long-blooming annuals for the summer will ensure a colorful garden for most of the growing season.

What are some flower bulbs for my spring garden. I haven’t worked with flower bulbs before and I don’t know where to start. What should I do?

We’d suggest that you map out the garden beds, and determine the color palette and general ambiance you would like for the garden: Is it more formal or informal? We usually recommend planting 80 percent of the garden with perennial flower bulbs and 20 percent with tulips and hyacinths, which will need to be planted each fall. Tulips and hyacinths have the broadest rainbow of colors available, and by replanting them every fall, you can keep the garden’s look fresh and exciting by changing their colors.

The primary perennial flower bulbs to include are narcissi, allium, fritillaria, lilies and herbaceous peonies, all of which may be planted either in clusters for a more orderly look or in drifts for a more natural look. Finally, finesse the garden with plantings of smaller bulbs like Muscari, Scilla, Chionodoxa and Anemone blanda. Tip: To help keep clients really happy, plant a cutting garden with varieties for the future and bring them spring preview bouquets before placing their fall bulb orders.

I want flower bulbs in our woods, and want them to look like they’ve always been there. I’ve only ever planted tulips before and we have major deer issues. Are there any other bulbs that I can use?

There is a whole range of deer and rodent-resistant naturalizing flower bulbs that can be planted in drifts to sparkle in woodlands from early to late spring. In early spring, Eranthis hyemalis, the winter aconite, adorns forest floors with 4-inch-tall, bright yellow flowers, while Galanthus, the snowdrop, charms us with 6-inch-tall milky-white flowers. One of the most prolifically planted woodland dwellers is the Narcissus, usually planted in loose groups with no apparent design. Hyacinthoides non-scripta, the English bluebell, yields breathtaking seas of 18-inchtall, shimmering violet-blue flowers. Scilla, Erythronium pagoda, Geranium tuberosum and Ornithogalum nutans Silver Bells are also lovely planted in seemingly haphazard drifts. Camassia, a northwest U.S. native, is perfect in irregular drifts in the dappled sunlight of the edge of woods. In just a few years, any of these flower bulbs will appear as if they are age-old woodland inhabitants.

bulb planting depth

How deep should bulbs be planted?

Also, be sure to plant your bulbs at the proper depth. Some are deep planted, while others are to be barely covered with soil, the difference can be having a bare bed or having one that is covered with beauty.

We have a house still under construction. There is only fill where the gardens are going to be. We don’t have the go-ahead on foundation plantings, but want something in bloom next spring. What can we do?

This first phase should focus on laying out only the bare minimum, mandatory beds around the foundation of the front of the house. The soil must be amended so that these beds have good neutral pH garden soil, close to a sandy loam, with reliable drainage. Determine the square footage and the color palette pleasing to the homeowners. Select earlier blooming tulip bulbs and hyacinth bulbs that will create a prominent, yet economical, display, but that can be treated as annuals. You’ll need about five bulbs per square foot for a somewhat dense planting. When the flowers start to die back in the spring, they can be removed, bulb and all, so that work may proceed with any hardscape, foundation plantings and other beds.

We have serious animal issues — both deer and rodents. What are my options?

Flower bulb eating squirrel

A bulb eating squirrel

Deer and rodents can wreak havoc on bulbs, as they can on any other type of ornamental plant. The strategies for dealing with these uninvited guests:

Plant bulbs that animals can’t or prefer not to eat. This is the easiest and most affordable option. It also means telling your client that she can’t have tulips or crocuses. So what can she have? Daffodils, first and foremost. All daffodils are toxic to mammals and will not be eaten. The same applies to other members of the amaryllis family: snowdrops (Galanthus) and snowflakes (Leucojum). Beyond that, there is a small group of bulbs that deer and rodents may sample but generally avoid: crown imperials (Fritillaria imperialis), glory of the snow (Chionodoxa) and winter aconite (Eranthis), among them. Deer and rodents don’t necessarily have the same taste in bulbs. Deer, for example, steer clear of the ornamental onions (Allium), but rodents have been known to eat the bulbs.

Bulb beds can be rewarding, or as we said, dissappointing. Do your homework, choose the right variety, get soil amendments in the bed, plant, and be patient.

Too big of a job for you? Give us a call LawnMasters can take care of hauling the soil, amendments, bed prep, planting and let you do the waiting.