The days are getting shorter and leaves are turning to autumn colours. Gardeners know this is the time of year to think about next spring. Planting tulip, daffodil and other spring-blooming flower bulbs now will brighten the post-winter landscape.
One does not have to be a master gardener to have a colourful spring garden. These glorious flowers are easy to grow. That’s probably why they’re so readily available now at garden centres, home centres, supermarkets and hardware stories, plus, of course, mail-order gardening firms.
The Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Centre has the following advice for planting bulbs.
Choose a sunny spot
Most bulbs like to be planted in full sun, though some will tolerate partial shade.When choosing a planting site, remember that when the bulbs bloom in spring, especially early blooming bulbs, the leaves of deciduous trees won’t yet have their full complement of leaves. You may have more choice planting sites than you think.
Plant bulbs in soil that drains well
Soggy soil can rot bulbs. Avoid planting bulbs in places where water collects, such as the base of hills or hollows.
When preparing the planting site, be sure to work the soil well and mix in organic compounds such as compost or peat moss. Large bulbs, such as tulips or daffodils, are planted about eight inches (20 cm) deep. Small bulbs, such as crocuses or grape hyacinths, are planted five inches (13 cm) deep. Be sure to work the soil several inches deeper than you plant the bulbs, so the roots have plenty of room to grow.
Plant bulbs in groups
The biggest mistake that novice gardeners make is planting bulbs as “single soldiers”, either in a line along a walkway or border, or just spottily throughout a bed. To get maximum colour impact, cluster your bulbs. This is true whether you plant 10 or 10,000.
Plant bulbs in a circular grouping to achieve a charming bouquet effect, or lay them out in a triangle pattern to fool the eye into seeing more flowers than you have actually planted. To do this, position tulips or other bulbs in a triangle pattern in which the narrow point faces your favourite viewing position and the broad expanse is positioned towards the back. When the flowers bloom, the visual result is an enhanced mass of colour.
What about adding fertilizer?
Bulbs already come with all the food they need inside to bloom the first season.
That’s what a bulb is, really, a storehouse of food and moisture. This would seem to indicate that fertilizing the first season is an overly generous act. And, indeed, that is true for many of tulip varieties which will bloom only once in most gardens. However, for other bulbs which have a good chance at naturalizing (come back to multiply and bloom, year after year), it is indeed a good idea to fertilize at planting. A good choice is to use a balanced controlled-release bulb food in fall so that it’s in place to kick-in next spring to fortify bulbs during their post-bloom recharging phase.
This is when the leaves of bulb flowers use photosynthesis to store up food for the following year’s bloom (which is why experts advise letting bulbs “die back” for six weeks after bloom before cutting back their leaves or mowing). Organic gardeners should top-dress their naturalized bulb beds in the fall, beginning in their second season, with compost or well-rotted cow manure.