Snowbell photo by Lisa-Marie Pohl
Good things come to those who “plant” ahead. This includes seeing the lovely blossoms of spring bulbs. In many areas there is still time to plant. Check out this bulb planting chart (scroll down a page or so) to find planting times for your area.
Visit your local nursery or garden center to pick out bulbs. Purchase firm bulbs that aren’t wrinkled or squishy. I once purchased some dead crocus bulbs at a $1.00 store because I didn’t actually look at them. Just like seeds, bulbs are living, breathing organisms that need proper care.
Be careful not to buy more bulbs than you have time to plant! I usually go on a “spree” and put everything I want in my cart. Once I’ve had my fun, I pick out my “must haves” and put everything else back. Keep bulbs in the refrigerator until you are ready to plant. Put them in a vegetable drawer to protect them from fruit, which gives off ethylene gas which can reduce bulb bloom quality.
Daffodil Hill (Volcano, CA) by Lisa-Marie Pohl
The easiest way to plant bulbs is to dig trenches. For large bulbs like daffodils, tulips and hyacinths, dig trenches that are 6 inches deep. For smaller bulbs like crocus, ranunculus, anemones, snowdrops, muscari (grape hyacinth), scillas and alliums, dig trenches that are 3 inches deep.
Plant bulbs with the growing point of the bulb facing “up.” It’s easy to tell with tulips, hyacinths and daffodils which side is “up” but harder with ranunculus, which should be pointed with the “toes down.” Plant anemones lengthwise, it doesn’t matter which side is “up.”
Most bulbs need 5-6 hours of sun, but crocus, daffodil, hyacinth, and some alliums can take partial shade. After planting, water bulbs well to initiate root growth. Don’t keep the soil too wet, however, as this can cause the bulbs to rot.
After spring bulbs flower, allow the stems and leaves to turn brown. During this time, the bulbs are absorbing nutrients from the stems and leaves to store for next year. If you find the browning leaves and stems unsightly, you can tie them back gently with string. You can cut off the stems and leaves once they have fully turned brown.
In order to bloom the following spring, tulip bulbs need a “chilling” or dormancy period. This happens naturally in USDA Zones 8 and lower. If you live in USDA Zones 9 and higher, you’ll need to dig up bulbs every summer. Pull bulbs apart and compost dead and tiny bulbs. Store the bulbs in mesh bags or loosely in a cardboard box in a cool, dry place. Next, “chill” the bulbs in your refrigerator for at least 6 weeks before planting in fall. Tulip bulbs can be stored for up to 16 weeks in your refrigerator, but you may need to reserve a vegetable drawer just for bulbs. In areas where temperatures dip below 45 degree for the required amount of time, you’ll need to rejuvenate bulb beds every 3 years.
You may have heard the term “naturalize” in reference to daffodils. This is when the bulbs multiply and bloom on their own in the landscape. Not all daffodil varieties naturalize, so choose older varieties like ‘ Ice Follies, ‘King Alfred’ and ‘Scarlet Gem.’ Bulb packages should tell you if the variety is an older one. Even bulbs that naturalize will need to be divided, sorted and replanted after a few years.