Planting spring bulbs is a simple way to add dramatic color to your containers or gardens from February to June.
Planting times for bulbs can vary depending on what climate zone where you live. If you are unsure about your zone, the USDA has a useful chart, on its web site describing the nation’s climate zones. Or, check with your local nursery or garden center.
Nurseries will begin selling bulbs from late September for areas with cold winters to mid-December for areas with mild climates.
Bulbs are easy to plant and grow, requiring only minimal care after planting. Once established, bulbs provide dramatic color for years to come.
Tulips, daffodils and lilies are all true bulbs. But, the word bulb may also be used to describe other types of plants such as: tubers, tuberous roots, corns and rhizomes.
1. Eight popular bulbs for spring
Most bulbs sold are hardy and will grow well in climate zones 3-9. Talk to the local nursery or botanical center to see which bulbs are the best choices in your specific climate zone for dramatic spring colors.
2. Where to plant
Bulbs do best in full sun, or at least 6 hours of direct sun. Partial shade is fine for many varieties, too. Pick locations with well-drained soil. Avoid flowerbeds that are soggy or have standing water.
3. Soil preparation
For best result, flowerbeds, or containers, should have well-tilled soil. Loosen the soil, with a spade, and add a general-purpose (or 5-10-10) fertilizer before bulb planting. Sandy or clay soil should receive extra leaf mold, compost or peat moss. Bulbs thrive in soil with an ample supply of organic matter.
When planting in large beds, add 2-3 lbs. of fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area. For small pocket plantings or containers, a handful of fertilizer for 10-12 bulbs will be sufficient. Always dig the fertilizer into the soil before beginning any planting.
4. How to plant bulbs
Choose bulbs that are both plump and firm. Avoid any bulbs that are soft or moldy on the surface. Larger well-developed bulbs will provide a better chance of flowering than smaller bulbs of the same variety.
The standard for planting bulbs is: plant them 3 times as deep as the bulb diameter. Read the instructions on each pack of bulbs. There are sometimes exceptions to the 3-times rule. Dig a hole at least twice as wide as the bulb and plant the bulb pointed end up. For bulbs without a pointed end, carefully examine it for the roots and plant the root end down. Cover each bulb with good planting soil and tamp the soil down gently with your fingers to eliminate air pockets around the bulb. Then, water well.
5. Plant color groups in larger flowerbeds
Create sweeping masses or themes of several colors. One idea is to use red tulips combined with yellow daffodils. Or add two accent colors in smaller clumps that follow the lines of the garden.
Adding early blooming perennials is a great way to combine spot colors to the bulbs. Vinca, Hellebore, or Creeping Phlox are all good perennial choices.
6. Tips for best results
• Select bulbs that are firm to the touch and free of soft spots or mold
• Plant bulbs at a depth of 3 times the diameter of the bulb
• Choose several varieties of bulbs for blooms throughout the spring and early summer
• Foil squirrels by planting bulbs in wire cages buried in the hole
• Fertilize a second time as blooms begin to fade
Now sit back and enjoy the spring colors.
Spring Bulbs top to bottom: Blue Koh-I-Nor & Purple Grape Hyacinth, West Point Lily Tulip, and Flaming Flag Tulip