As a new graduate, who just recently moved out of her parent’s house, I’ve only started digging into gardening as a hobby. Last summer, I tried my hand at some flower planters that you can read about here. This post will be all about my first and possibly disastrous attempt at planting spring bulbs, what I’ve learned and what I’ll try next time!
If you’re like me, the site of colourful spring flowers brings excitement and a feeling of good things to come after a bleak winter. My mum always planted spring bulbs at my family home, so when I moved out, I couldn’t wait to embrace this tradition. However, I knew almost nothing about spring bulbs…
While out shopping last fall, I became a little overzealous and bought about 120 bulbs from Costco, for the two small gardens where I live. Then, I naturally got busy and totally forgot to plant them until the last week of October- which was a little later than the recommended 6 weeks before the first ground-freezing frost. So I’m just hoping that my bulbs decide to come up!
As I nervously await the hopeful arrival of my spring flowers, I’ve committed to do some research for myself and anyone else interested!
Step 1: Choosing your bulbs
As I mentioned before, I might have jumped the gun and bought a ton of bulbs from Costco before researching the different varieties, local growing conditions, or even how to plant them. I stereo-typically bought bags of bulbs with the prettiest pictures on the front. Evidently, experienced gardeners suggest buying bulbs from reputable nurseries (I’m guessing where I buy my bulk quantities of meat and hot sauce isn’t considered reputable). It’s recommended to buy from nurseries vs. big box stores since the staff at local nurseries tend to be much more knowledgeable about the plants, local growing conditions, and generally take better care of the plants.
In other findings, I’ve learned there are many different types of spring bulbs that require different care and bloom in the early, mid or late spring. If you desire an elaborate spring garden, you could even plant a variety of bulbs that will continuously flower all spring. Here is what else I’ve learned!
Early Spring Bloomers:
Winter Aconite, Snowdrops, Fragrant Puschkinia, Glory of the Snow, Tiny Reticulata
Tulips and Daffodils
Step 2: Planting Bulbs
Spring bulbs should be planted in well-drained soil about 6 weeks before the hard, ground-freezing frost. This will allow the bulbs to establish a root system; if the ground is too wet there is a chance the bulbs will rot.
On the back of the bulb packaging it will usually indicate proper depth and spacing for the specific bulbs. I purchased a “Perfect Pairings” set with Crocus and Daffodils, as well as a package of “Curb Appeal” Tulips. On the back of the package it had exact depths and spacing for each type of bulb, and being the nerd I am, I used a ruler for the first couple of bulbs I planted and would definitely recommend it for any beginner.
When planting bulbs, my research indicates that they should be planted in clusters and never in rows, as it will increase the instability of the flowers and they may fall over. I didn’t know this and planted all 120 bulbs in neat, single file rows- so I may end up with a garden of horizontal flowers…
Once the bulbs are planted, it is recommended to fertilize the soil in the planting area with bulb booster, bone meal, or super phosphate.
Squirrels may love your bulbs more than you, and they’ve been known to remove carefully arranged groups or even to re-arrange your bulbs! Tamping down the soil after planting helps to protect your hard work by concealing the smell of the bulbs. To protect your bulbs from marauding animals, try sprinkling blood meal or critter-ridder over the bulbs before covering with soil. If you’re really protective of your bulbs, some gardeners cover the bulbs, once in the hole, with chicken wire to ward off pesky critters.
Step 3: Caring for your Spring Bulbs
Good news, spring bulbs are mostly maintenance free! After the bulbs have bloomed you may want to dead head them, but leave the stems and leaves standing. The foliage needs to die back naturally, allowing the sun to convert oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium into food that is stored in the bulb for next year. Spring bulbs should flourish and come back for years to come if they are planted in well-drained soil, allowed plenty of sunlight, and you’re able to stave off hungry squirrels!
Your spring bulbs didn’t bloom?
Sometimes bulbs don’t come up at all, or they might come up but won’t blossom. Here are some common reasons why:
- Squirrels or voles have made a nice meal out of them
- They were too small: Smaller bulbs need to reach a certain size before flowering
- Too much or not enough fertilizer: Always fertilize flowers with a low nitrogen fertilizer; nitrogen encourages the growth of leaves which can be at the expense of flowers.
- Not enough sun: Bulbs need about 6-8hr a day of direct sunlight
- Poor drainage: Excessive wet soil causes the bulbs to rot
- Competition for nutrients: In an area with fast growing plants, or evergreens, it can cause crowding or shading that will reduce the nutrients for bulbs. The most compatible plant for spring bulbs are Hostas.
So, now that I can pinpoint everything I did wrong while planting my own spring bulbs, hopefully I’ve educated and inspired you to try your own hand at it!
While I sit back and await my spring blooms, I’ve started to think forward to next fall. I think I’ll try my luck with a layered bulb container (pictured above), or maybe even try to bring some spring colour inside during the winter months, by forcing bulbs in a vase (pictured below).
FUN FACT: To force bulbs in a vase, they’re required to be stored for 12-15 weeks in a fridge or other cold place, to receive enough ‘cold-sleepy’ time (yes, that’s really what it’s called). However, the bulbs cannot be kept near apples, as they expel gases that prevent the bulbs from blooming! Who knew apples were so perilous..
– Jenna Monk