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Fall Bulb Planting 101

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

Q: How do I plant bulbs?

A: It’s easy! First, decide on the design and layout you want to have, and place the bulbs down where you would like to plant them. Then, using a spade or hand trowel, dig either small individual holes, a trench, or a hole large enough for several bulbs. The size of the bulb should determine the depth of the hole – but as a general rule of thumb, a depth of 4 to 6 inches is plenty. Place the bulb in the hole with the basal plate (the flat bit at the bottom) pointing down. Please note that most of the spring bulbs in cultivation were originally alpine plants, meaning they grew on rocky mountainsides. If you have clay soil, or a rich loamy soil, then gravel is your best friend. Pour a solid layer into your planting holes to ensure your bulbs have ample drainage. Then, simply cover the bulbs over with soil, compress the soil thoroughly, and water once very well.

Q: When is the best time to plant?

A: In general, the best time to plant is mid to late October. But realistically, as long as you can still get your shovel into the ground, it’s not too late! In fact, later is often better, as bulbs planted too soon may begin to grow prematurely.

Q: How do I stop squirrels from digging up my bulbs?

A: Squirrels and other furry pests dig up bulbs because they are attracted to the smell of the recently turned earth. They think some other animal has been hiding snacks there – and they’re not entirely wrong! To discourage their nosiness, be sure to thoroughly compact the soil once you’ve finished planting. Stomp on it, jump up and down! You’ll feel silly, but it works! Once this is done, sprinkle a generous layer of chicken manure or blood meal. If you live in a rural area, or a neighbourhood with lots of curious creatures, consider putting a thick mulch down as well.

Q: I planted bulbs last autumn, and they never came up. What happened?

A: If you’re quite certain that the squirrels aren’t responsible for your bulbs not showing up, then it’s almost always one of two other reasons. One, they were planted too early, started to grow, and then the new growth was frozen in the winter. Two, they were planted into soil that was too heavy and wet, and rotted before they had a chance to grow. Be sure to plant bulbs towards the end of October, and mix gravel into heavier soils, and this should solve your issue.

Q: How can I ensure that my bulbs keep blooming year after year?

A: It’s all about choosing the right bulbs. Many of the flashy bulbs that catch our eye in the garden centre have been heavily hybridized, meaning they have been designed to put on a brilliant show for one spring only. When you’re choosing your bulbs with longevity in mind, the more “simple” the flower looks in the picture, the better. For example, some tulips have been bred to have many petals so they resemble peonies, or have petals with frilly edges. These are beautiful, and perform wonderfully in a pot, but they almost never bloom again. Choose tulips with a simple shape and a single colour. The same concept applies with daffodils, crocus, allium and hyacinth.

So now that you’ve chosen the perfect bulbs, how do you ensure they come up year after year? It’s actually pretty simple! Once the flowers have faded, be sure to cut or snap off the flower head before it goes to seed. This will force the plant to put all its energy into creating new bulbs. Once the flowering is finished, that is the time to fertilize your bulbs, and continue doing so into the summer. Chicken manure, blood meal, and seaweed-based fertilizers are wonderful for this. Lastly, it’s important that you don’t cut back the leaves. Even if they look a little tired and unattractive, the leaves are working hard to feed the bulbs down below. Once they have completely turned yellow and died back, then you can cut the entire plant down to the ground.

Q: Can I plant bulbs in a pot?

A: Absolutely! Make sure to choose pots with drainage holes, and loosen up your potting soil with lots of sand or gravel. The most crucial part of growing bulbs in pots is winter storage. If you have lots of heavy pots, group them together and cover them with a tarp. Secure it tightly with a rope. If you have a shed, or a garage that stays below freezing all winter, store your pots in there. It is perfectly alright for your bulbs to be frozen solid – but if they are sopping wet from melting snow and then freeze in the pot, they will very likely die.

Q: I want to plant a bulb ‘lasagna’. Is there a recipe I should follow?

A: Bulb lasagnas are a delightful concept, but can seem intimidating at first. For those not in the know, a bulb lasagna is a large pot that has been filled with layers of soil and bulbs. The intention is to choose bulbs that will bloom at different times, so the display changes and blooms continuously throughout the spring. There is no set “recipe” that should be followed. In general, the bigger the bulb, the lower in the pot it should go. So if you were to choose tulips, daffodils and crocus, the tulips would be at the bottom, with the daffodils above them, and the crocus at the very top. You could even do a lasagna with a single type of bulb, but different varieties that grow to different heights! Be creative, and choose the flowers and colours that speak to you. Bulbs are very adaptable, and will do their best to perform well.

Have more questions? Come see us at the greenhouses or send us an email! Our team is always happy to help.

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1 Comment

Wow! This is super helpful! Brilliant article.

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