How to - Gardening Resources

Planting last-minute bulbs

Larry Hodgson

It's never too late to put those hardy flower bulbs into the ground for spring blooms

Across Canada, organized gardeners have likely planted their spring bulbs by now. Then there are those who, like me, invariably find themselves with the cold, uncomfortable chore of trying to plant bulbs in winter. You'd be surprised at how late you can leave this task and still enjoy bountiful blooms in the spring.

Wait for snow to melt the garden
I once received some bulbs in mid-November. The ground was completely frozen in my Zone 4 garden, and it was impossible to dig down even a few centimetres. But then I had a brainstorm: When snow blankets the ground, it acts as an insulator. Could the warmth from deep down in the earth thaw out the soil under the snow? I decided to wait and see.

By January, there was about a metre of snow on the ground, so I dug down and, sure enough, the ground beneath it had thawed. It was muddy but diggable. I planted the bulbs and piled the snow over them again. They bloomed right on cue.

Bury bulbs with a bag of soil

The older I get, the lazier I become. Two years ago in December I discovered a box of bulbs I'd forgotten to plant. Although there wasn't any snow, I simply chucked them directly onto the frozen earth in the garden and covered them with 20 centimetres of commercially bagged soil. They bloomed the following spring as if they'd been planted properly.

When is it too late?

What about the spring bulbs you've put off planting until spring has actually sprung? If they haven't shrivelled, they may still be salvageable. Plant them in the garden while the soil is still cold (but not frozen) and water well. Apply a good bulb fertilizer to give them a little encouragement. They won't bloom that spring, but many will at least produce foliage, then bloom their hearts out for you in the years to come.

Some bulbs won't wait

Late planting works for most spring-flowering types, such as tulips, narcissi, hyacinths and crocuses, as long as the bulbs are kept cool, dry and well aired in the fall. However, there are some exceptions: Eranthis, Erythronium, Eremurus, Trillium, Anemone or any of the fall-blooming bulbs need to be planted just as soon as they become available at the nursery.


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