Planting Bulbs is an Investment in Spring

by Nate Tschaenn, Director of Horticulture

Unlike planting annuals or perennials, there is no instant payoff to planting bulbs. When the job is done, the ground looks the same as before. Planting bulbs is an investment in spring. They must be planted in the fall because they require a chilling period in order to initiate growth. So we put our faith in these unremarkable dormant bulbs and wait all winter in anticipation of spring. And it’s worth it.

In early spring, when little else is blooming, they carpet the ground in masses of bright colors. The colorful displays provide relief and enjoyment to thousands of visitors, desperate for color to return to the landscape after the bleak winter.

Planning for the spring bulb display begins in early summer of the previous year when the bulb order is placed. This fall, the hardworking horticulture staff will plant 35,000 tulips and add several thousand daffodils and other bulbs to our spring displays. Daffodils and other bulbs can be left in the ground and will rebloom each spring, but tulip bulbs are removed after flowering and planted again each year.

There are several different types of tulip and daffodils that bloom at different times. They are generally separated into early, mid or late blooming varieties. Early, mid or late bulbs can be mixed together to extend the bloom display or several different colors of the same type of bulb can be used to create a more intense, but shorter, burst of color. A mix of the early double tulip ‘Monte Carlo’ with the single late tulip ‘Negrita’ proved quite popular. The purple ‘Negrita’ was just coming into bloom as the yellow ‘Monte Carlo’ was fully open.

 

The Time is Now! Planting Bulbs for Spring Blooms

Planting bulbs is quite simple. You can plant tulip or daffodils in an existing garden bed for early color before most perennials have started growing and before annuals are planted. They should be planted in well-drained soil in full or part sun.

Before planting, it can be helpful to lay out the bulbs where you want them in order to keep track of where you have planted. Tulips should be planted four to six inches apart. Daffodils will spread a little each year and can be placed a little further apart at six to eight inches. Use a trowel to dig a hole six inches deep just slightly wider than the bulb. For perennial bulbs like daffodils, you can mix a high phosphorous fertilizer like bone meal into the bottom of the hole. Place the bulb in the hole with the pointy side up and the flat side, which has the roots, down. If you accidently plant upside down, the bulb will still flower but may be slightly delayed.

After flowering, you can remove the flower stalks from daffodils but allow the foliage to remain until it dies back on its own. Tulips do not usually return each year with much vigor, so they are usually treated as annuals and removed after flowering. If you plan on keeping for more than one year, fertilize when planting and in the spring with a slow release fertilizer.