Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
September, 2010
Regional Report

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Crocus are the most forgiving of all the bulbs I plant. These live in a planter on my deck and are the first to show their color in spring.

Bulb Planting Time

Have you visited your local garden center lately? Spring-flowering bulbs are beginning to show up by the bag, bin, and bushel basket. Although the weather is still reasonably warm, bulb planting time has arrived.

Bulbs are relatively easy plants to grow. In fact, they will grow just about anywhere and in just about any type of soil. But for the healthiest plants and the most spectacular flower display year after year, they are best planted in well-drained, compost-enriched soil.

As you browse the garden centers searching for that perfect combination of spring bulbs, don't forget the little plants - crocus, snowdrop, scilla, grape hyacinth, and dwarf beardless iris. Of all these plants, crocuses are my favorite. They are the first to emerge, and they reliably produce bright purple or yellow flowers even when there is snow on the ground.

Getting Ready
Generally, the earlier a bulb blooms in the spring, the earlier in the fall it should be planted. For that reason, I always plant snowdrops before crocus, and crocus before tulips. One exception to the rule is the daffodil. Daffodils need a long growing season to establish a good root system, so I plant them as early as possible in the fall. Most bulb experts recommend that fall bulbs be planted when soil temperatures are 55 to 60 degrees F. I suppose you could stick a thermometer down into the soil, but I rely on cues from the other plants in my garden. When the maple leaves begin to show their fall colors, I plant my bulbs.

Select the Best
With bulbs, bigger is better. A bulb contains all the nourishment it needs for healthy growth, so the bigger the bulb, the healthier the plant and the bigger the blooms. Bulb sizes are usually listed on the labels of packaged bulbs and in catalog descriptions. Most bulbs are graded based on the size of their circumference, and they're priced accordingly. Daffodils are graded by size as well as by number of "noses" or points on the bulbs. Double-nosed (DN) daffodils range from the large-sized DNI to the smaller (and cheaper) DNIII. I purchase the largest bulbs I can afford, knowing that their flowers will be the most spectacular.

Along with size, look for firm, healthy bulbs with no signs of mold. Soft, mushy bulbs have been mishandled or stored improperly; they won't perform well. I reject these in favor of more suitable candidates.

Choosing Your Site
For best results, pick a spot that gets at least six hours of direct sunshine a day and has well drained soil. I think bulbs look their best when planted in sweeping drifts or large clumps rather than like soldiers lined up in straight rows. To me, a clump of daffodils is more effective than spots of yellow flowers sprinkled throughout the garden and a swath of tulips has far more impact than a lone bulb planted here and there.

Bulb planting depth (measured from top of bulb to soil level) should be two to three times the greatest diameter of the bulb. If your soil is very sandy, plant a bit deeper; in heavy clay, don't plant quite as deep. Using a bulb planter or trowel, dig a series of single planting holes, or use a spade to dig out an area large enough to accommodate an entire drift of bulbs.

At the bottom of the planting hole, sprinkle a little bonemeal or superphosphate along with some well-rotted manure or good compost. Place bulbs into the hole, pointy end up, spacing them as far apart as the size of their blossoms. Some bulbs may end up sideways or upside down when covered with soil. Don't worry, they will right themselves as they develop roots and send up their flowering stem. Cover the bulbs with soil and water the area thoroughly. The water will wash soil in around the bulbs, eliminating air pockets.

When you're finished planting, step back to admire your work and then wait patiently for spring! The lush beds of flowers you've just created will be a joy to behold.

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