Plants - Flower Bulbs

Bulb strategies for continuous spring blooms

Karen York
Photography by
Cybèle Young

From gardens to pots to the front lawn, try these techniques for a colourful show

From giant fritillarias to diminutive winter aconites, there’s a bulb for every spot. Tuck them along pathways, in rock gardens, between deciduous shrubs and trees (where they will get enough sun before the trees leaf out), or among perennials, which will emerge to hide the bulbs’ dying foliage.

Prepare the planting space by digging in some compost, well-rotted manure or slow-release bulb food. You can plant bulbs individually or dig out a larger area and plant them in groups. Bulb planters are great in theory but can be hard on the wrist, and the soil must be just the right friability for them to work properly. A trowel or small spade will always do the trick.

Bulbs should be planted three to four times deeper than the height of the bulb. Loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole and press the bulb(s) in firmly, pointy end up. (If there isn’t an obvious point, plant the bulb sideways; it will find its way.) Space them two to three bulb widths apart. Carefully pull the soil over the bulb(s) and firm gently.

Water well and cover with mulch (chopped leaves are perfect). If squirrels are a problem, lay down chicken wire under the mulch. Don’t worry, the bulbs will grow through it. Avoid tulips and crocuses if deer and rabbits are frequent visitors. Cut off spent flowers but leave the foliage. Subsequently, give bulbs an annual top-dressing of compost or well-rotted manure in early spring and/or fall. 

A few tips
True buried treasures, bulbs are planted in fall or early winter, forgotten about, then erupt in a wealth of glorious colours from very early spring until the advent of summer. Whatever the type of bulb or bulb planting, remember:

1. Bigger is better. Look for fat, firm bulbs with no mushy spots.

2. Don’t plant too early. Store them in a cool dark spot until soil temperatures are below 12°C.

3. Plant them in odd numbers in drifts or clusters. Five or seven is a minimum; 101 is stunning.

4. Most bulbs like sun, at least six hours of it.

5. Bulbs need excellent drainage, but make sure the soil is moist when planting; newly planted bulbs can start putting out roots within 24 hours.

6. Let the foliage die back naturally. Don’t braid, tie, twist or otherwise torture it. It’s replenishing the bulb for next year’s flowers.


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