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Preparing for the spring by planting bulbs now

In the Garden

Spring bulbs don’t just show up in the spring, they are the product of forward-thinking people.

New spring bulbs and other spring flowering perennials do best when planted in the fall. They need to go through a vernalization (chilling process) in order to break dormancy and produce flowers. That vernalization can be done in a refrigerator or garage, but the plants don’t get the benefit of fall root establishment.

Bulb selection

Select high-quality bulbs. Look for large bulbs that have the membrane covering on them and are free of damage or disease. Avoid bulbs with mold, gouges and cracks.

Site selection

Bulbs will do best if they are planted in full-sun locations with wind protection. Eastern Idaho’s strong spring winds can drastically shorten the blooming season of spring bulbs.

Irrigation

Water. They only need to be watered once after planting — whether in the ground or in pots.

Soil and fertility

The soil should be rich and well-drained. The ground should be friable (crumbly) and deep enough that the holes or trenches can be easily dug for bulb placement.

Blooming plant fertilizer may be applied prior to planting and worked into the soil, based on the label rate of the product. Any subsequent flowers or crops will also need to be fertilized for their growing season.

Bulbs02
Bulbs are equally as nice in the ground or in pots. | Courtesy Oregon State University.

Planting

The rule of thumb for planting bulbs is to cover them with approximately two to three times the diameter of the bulb. Spring bulbs (garlic, daffodils, tulips, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, crocus, etc.) will be planted anywhere from 2 – 8 inches deep, depending on the size of the bulbs. Irises are a rhizome and should be just barely covered by soil.

Plant in groupings. Rows are not as impressive as grouped bulbs. An easy way to plant large groups of bulbs is to dig out the area you want to plant to the desire depth, place the bulbs in the area and cover them all up again. They can be planted almost touching or with 2 – 4 inches between them for a nice “pop” of color

If you are going to plant just a few bulbs you can use a bulb planter tool. Work the ground so it is easy to dig.

  • Smooth the ground with a rake
  • Set the bulbs out
  • Using a garden trowel
    • jab to the desired depth
    • pull back a little
    • place the bulb with the nose up
    • pull out the trowel
    • firm the soil over the bulb
  • Move to the next one

If the ground is properly worked, you can plant several bulbs a minute.

Places that plant thousands to millions of bulbs every year use a garden spade for intricate planting beds, or specialized machinery. It’s cool to watch the machinery for commercial bulb production.

Potted bulbs should be planted just as deep and can be kept in the garage until they begin to poke out of the soil in the spring. Water them only once at planting and not again until they start to grow in the spring.

Work now so you can enjoy early spring flowers.

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