Nystrom's Nursery
Gardeners Page


By Neil Peterson

Last Updated Sep 20, 2011 12:02:04 PM

I've been noticing over the last several years, fewer and fewer people planting spring bulbs. That's a real shame-because nothing brushes away the winter blues more than seeing those first sprigs of green push through the ground in March. Whether it's an isolated clump of Snowdrops or a mass of Daffodils, bulbs practically shout "Hey! Winter is over!". The problem we encounter-particularly as a culture progressivly more focused on instant gratification-is bulbs are planted during the opposite season (Plant flowers...now? I'll just stay in and watch the game).

Most of the commonly grown flower bulbs, such as Daffodils, Hyacinth, Tulips, and Crocus, come from parts of the Middle East (Turkey largely). As an adaptation to deal with hot, dry summers, they grow above ground actively during the spring, go dormant in the summer, and begin to regrow in fall. During the weeks before the ground freezes, the bulbs grow their roots, and often begin to send up their shoots for the following spring. This is why we plant them in the fall. Around here, the last week of September into Mid-October is just about prime.  

Bulbs are ridiculously easy to grow provided you follow a few simple rules. First: plant them deep enough (simple, right?) Daffodils and Tulips (except the small flower types) need to be planted 6 inches deep. That means 6 inches on top of the bulb.

Second: don't plant them were it's wet all the time. Like most "normal" garden plants, standing water is probably going to prove fatal. Give them as much sun as possible, in a spot with good draining, average soils.

Third: if you wan't them to come back every year, start with good quality, and don't cut the leaves off. The bulbs availible in the box stores are prematurely harvested to get to market early. In my experience, for every 10 bulbs you buy, three are rotten in the bag, and two of them don't flower the spring following planting. Buy bulbs from reliable retailers or from an online source such as Colorblends or John Scheepers.

Bulbs need their leaves to photosynthesize and grow. If they are cut back after flowering, they will just appear as a few small leaves the following year. The foliage can definately be unsightly, so try planting bulbs with other perennials and shrubs that will cover the leaves as they die off. Normally the leaves will disappear by Mid-June.

Last: protect them from critters. Many bulbs are unpalatable to squirrels and chipmunks, but that won't stop them from digging them up. Check a few times a week to make sure they haven't be dislodged. Another great trick is after they've been planted, sprinkle some cayenne pepper powder on the disturbed ground. It needs to be repeated after rain, but is a cheap fix to the "squirrel problem".

So my advice-plant some bulbs this year. They're cheap, easy, and rewarding. And if you really want to dive in, plan a trip the the Keukenhof-the world's premiere bulb displays.