Five Things to Know About Bulbs

October 30, 2015

Flower bulbs are some of the first plants we see poking out of the ground in early spring. And because they are such early bloomers, they want to be planted in the ground in Saint Louis, right about now through November (or in general after a hard, killing freeze but before the ground is frozen). Bulbs are a lovely addition to any garden, walkway, entrance or alcove. They’re also a great project to work on with children or neighbors. If planted and treated with care, they’ll reward you with stunning blooms (and often amazing cut flowers to bring indoors) – and some varieties will do so year after year. We have a limited selection of quality bulbs available at our online store, if you are in the Saint Louis area and need any.

When I first began planting bulbs, I knew very little of their needs. I knew they wanted to be planted so you can’t really see them. I knew they should be planted in the fall. But man, there were some other growing tips that would have helped me out a lot had I known…some of which I was pretty surprised by. So I thought now is a great time to share these little nuggets – and happy planting!

  1. Bulbs want to be planted at least 3 times their size, in depth. That is usually at least 6 inches deep! Not only can this help protect the plant from squirrels or other critters digging up the bulb just for fun, but the main purpose is to prevent the bulb from “heaving” out of the ground due to winter frost/thaw cycles. I have seen it happen in bulbs that I planted too shallowly.
  2. They are easiest to plant in groups. We’ve seen those hole-punch looking bulb diggers that look so efficient…but given the depth requirements mentioned above, unless you are planting bulbs sparsely, it is usually much easier to dig out a larger hole for the area where your bulbs will live. Plus, they often give a much more stunning show when planted together rather than thinly spread out in the garden.
  3. Spring-blooming bulbs do not want to be watered in the summer! Spring rainfall is usually all these bulbs require to survive. In addition, make sure you plant them in an area that is well-draining, and does not include plants in the vicinity that will require frequent watering in the hot summer months. You can supply a small amount of a 4-10-6 fertilizer can be sprinkled in early spring at emergence, and again when flowers begin to die back (but before leaves have died), to help strengthen the bulb beneath.
  4. Do not remove foliage until it has browned completely and is easy to remove from the planting area. This sometimes means waiting weeks or even a month after flowers have come and gone. While bulb foliage can be considered unsightly to some, it is crucial to let the foliage continue to photosynthesize and provide energy to the bulb, if it’s meant to survive another year.
  5. Some bulbs are not perennial. I was really bummed to learn this, after dropping some cash on the most beautiful parrot tulips (and having great results their first year). Many specialty bulbs are meant to put on their most spectacular show their first blooming year. Some will continue to bloom in consecutive years, but with less vigor, some will pretty much stop, while others (like large Darwin hybrid tulips, or many varieties of Narcissi) will naturalize and produce more blooms over the years. It’s good to know this before purchasing your bulbs – or waiting until after a second bloom/year to decide if you want to get a lot more of a specific variety.

Now, these are not all the things you should know about bulbs. Each flower variety has slightly specific growing conditions and patterns. And there are few basics like planting bulbs with their “eyes looking up.” But I hope you find these five little tips helpful – if not as surprising as I did, when I found out I did not need to water the bulbs all summer. (Rejoice!)

Allium 'purple sensation' and Tulip 'purple peony' along with variegated solomon's seal and boxwood - all from the garden.

Allium ‘purple sensation’ and Tulip ‘purple peony’ along with variegated solomon’s seal and boxwood – all from the garden.