For Release October 17, 2004

Bulb Planting Time

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

Now that we are into October AND the weather has finally cooled down, it's time to start planting all those wonderful spring flowering bulbs or as they are sometimes called, the Dutch bulbs. While these bulbs can stay in the ground for several years and keep blooming, there is really only one time of the year when we can successfully plant them. When you plant a new bulb you want to plant it early enough in the season so that it will get its roots established, but not so early as to have excessive fall growth which can reduce flower quality in the spring.

The two most common problems with planting bulbs is planting too early and not planting deep enough. One of the reasons that bulbs get planted too early is that they appear in stores so early. Go ahead and buy them early to get the best selection, but then stick them in a cool dry place until the latter half of October when it is time to plant them.

The natural tendency of all bulbs is to produce daughter bulbs, or those smaller bulbs that we find clustered together when we dig up those tulips or daffodils or whatever. The shallower a bulb is planted, relative to the ideal planting depth, the quicker it multiplies. As the number of daughter bulbs increase they start to become crowded. So where 5 years ago you had one large blossom, and 3 years ago you had 8 blossoms but smaller, now you have 15 blossoms and they are tiny.

You will cause far fewer problems planting bulbs a little too deep than a little too shallow. Can you plant bulbs too deep? Yes, you can, but I doubt that you want to dig a hole that deep! Just read the package - if it says to plant the bulbs 6 inches deep, get your yardstick out and make sure that the bottom of that planting hole is at least 6 inches. If it's 7 or 8 inches, there's no damage done!

To make a really impressive display of spring flowering bulbs, plant them in groupings of the same kind. We refer to these as drifts. Single bulbs planted here and there look rather lonely and forlorn. But a clump of 6 or 8 or 12 tulips or daffodils planted 2 to 4 inches apart in a tear drop or kidney shape will create a nice mass of color in the spring. It will be one of those displays that will cause people driving down the street to slow down and say, wow!

If you are planting several different types of bulbs in the same bed, pay close attention to mature height and blooming period. Normally, later blooming bulbs are taller, within the same type of flowers. Later blooming tulips are usually taller and bigger than early season tulips. Early blooming daffodils are often much shorter than standards. You don't want one group of flowers to be covered up by the foliage of the group that just bloomed.

When you dig your planting hole, go ahead and apply a little bone meal, or bulb fertilizer, in the bottom of the planting hole. Then take your garden trowel or spade and break up the soil in the bottom of the hole and work that bone meal in. Plant the bulbs, carefully pressing the bulb down firmly into the soil and then covering the bulbs with loose soil, not big clods. You don't want spaces where cold winter air can get down around the bulbs and freeze them. Water the bulbs down well to help settle the soil, but that's probably all the watering you'll need to do this fall. Then sit back, get ready for winter and know that come late winter or early spring, you'll have some wonderful splashes of color to bring in spring!


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