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Bulb planting time

One of the most meaningful flowers for those of us who live in northern climates is the daffodil and it’s really hard to beat those cheerful, common, yellow ones known as ‘King Alfred.’


An added bonus for gardeners who share their community with whitetail deer is that they don’t eat daffodils, while tulips appear to be tops on their Spring buffet. Deer also hate Hyacinths which have such an awesome room-filling fragrance when brought inside.

Fall also provides an ideal time to divide clumps of existing bulbs since doing so will help promote larger blossoms (crowded bulbs produce smaller flowers). Maybe you can still find some dead foliage to help mark where your existing bulbs are growing.

I have a grouping of geranium narcissus (also great for a fragrant vase!) across a front landscape bed that I’ve been meaning to extend, so this blog will serve as a reminder for my “to do” list. The ground should be soft enough from all the rain provided it’s still not too muddy to work.

   Fragrant Geranium Narcissus with multiple blossoms!

Fragrant Geranium Narcissus with multiple blossoms!

If you’re buying new bulbs for your garden, look for the LARGEST ones, while rejecting any that don’t look firm and healthy (kind of like buying good potatoes without bad spots).

I’ve used various methods for planting fall bulbs and often used either a handheld metal bulb planter or a similar one with a long wooden handle to reduce bending and kneeling, which are both more difficult as the years go by! Gel knee pads or a waterproof gardening cushion make great companions.

One of the local garden writers raves about using a rechargeable electric drill (he likes his new powerful 20-Volt model he purchased for under $60) with a soil auger drill bit attachment. Again, the right soil moisture level helps, and my advice on buying any sort of bulb planting equipment would be the same as for shovels and spades, buy only top quality, durable tools since the cheapos will fail quickly (roots and rocks are out to get them!) while a quality tool will last a lifetime.

When planting groupings of bulbs we sometimes excavated an entire area 1-inch deeper than recommended bulb planting depth (on average, bulbs are typically planted 3-times their diameter deep, ie: plant a daffodil with a 2-inch diameter 6-inches deep). Since you don’t want high-phosphorus fertilizer (best for bulbs) or bone meal (good organic fertilizer for bulbs) to come into contact with bulbs, digging the planting area deeper, spreading the fertilizer, then adding back an inch of soil, then allows for easy placement of your bulb grouping arrangement before backfilling the area with the rest of the excavated soil. Clear as mud?

Chipmunks are other rodents will eat bulbs so there are various methods to protect bulbs in those environments, from wire cages buried around bulb plantings to soaking bulbs in a rodent repellent labelled for that purpose. Having done neither, I won’t elaborate on either method.

You can always “start small” by picking a partly-sunny to sunny corner of a landscape bed that isn’t soggy or clogged with tree roots, and plant a grouping of a half-dozen daffodils. While I think groupings of the same color daffodils look the best, I prefer mixed-color plantings of Crocus and Hyacinths.

Leave foliage on daffodils until July 4th since bulbs need those leaves to recharge themselves for the following Spring (I’ve even seen large plantings of daffodils cohabitating with grass in meadows that wouldn’t be mowed until after early July each year).

It’s not rocket science, pretty simple actually. Spring rewards will bring beautiful, fragrant dividends!


MORE: Fertilizing daffodils


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