Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
October, 2001
Regional Report

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A long narrow trowel marked with inches helps dig in bulbs among existing plantings.

Bulb Planting

I've been tucking a few extra bulbs into my beds, but it's a challenge not to dig up existing bulbs. No matter how carefully I draw my map with different locations, or how many markers I stick into the soil, I seem to dislodge something.

But I can't resist sneaking a few more bulbs in anyway. There's something magical about planting a tiny orb (or claw in the case of ranunculus) below the soil surface and watching a green shoot appear months later.

Soil Preparation

Bulbs prefer loose, well-drained soil. Dig the soil to a depth of 18 inches. Work in a 4- to 6-inch layer of compost. This may seem like a lot, but desert soils are extremely low in organic matter. Add nitrogen and phosphorus, such as fish meal and bone meal, according to product instructions.


Most bulb packages will provide planting depths, but a rule of thumb is to plant twice as deep as the height of the bulb. If starting from scratch, I find it easier to remove the depth of soil, sprinkle fertilizer on the surface, mix it in, place the bulbs and then cover it all up with the soil I removed.

Now that my beds are brimming with bulbs, I use a long narrow trowel that has inches marked on it for digging single holes. I mix a teaspoon or so of bone meal and fish meal into the bottom of the hole.

What to Plant

Most bulbs will grow in the low desert. For repeat performers, I've had good luck with iris, Dutch iris, tritonia, lycoris, zephyranthes, crocosmia, glory of the snow, crinum, freesia and watsonia. I've had mixed results with ranunculus, crocus and daffodils. Tulips are best treated as annuals.

When to Plant

In the low desert, bulbs can be planted late September through November, and even into December, although the sooner they are in the ground, the stronger the root system and resulting floral display. At higher elevations, finish bulb planting by mid- to late-October. If rodents are a problem, encase bulbs in wire mesh baskets.

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