Nothing shows the promise of spring like a crocus peeping out from the wet earth after snow melt. The purple-yellow “hello” means the rest of the spring flower chorus will join in before long. Next come the daffodils, then the tulips. Soon the beds are blooming with colorful bulbs.
The best part? You can plant bulbs in the fall, forget about them over the winter, then watch them sprout into full color in spring. Teach your children how to plant these pretty surprises before the ground freezes. Bulbs are easy to work with, and they’re low-maintenance. (You won’t be heading out to the yard in January with a watering can.) Before you bury bulbs with the family, consider these selection and planting tips for success.
Make smart picks. No need to choose exotic bulbs—simple is best, and reliable cultivars will guarantee a spring show. “The less common cultivars don’t necessarily come up,” says Jennifer Bousselot, lecturer and master gardener coordinator for the department of horticulture at Iowa State University. Go for tulips, daffodils, crocuses and hyacinths. By selecting a variety, you’ll achieve continuous color when one bulb after the next blooms.
Plant early. It’s OK if the first frost already set in. But the earlier you tuck bulbs into the earth after summer, the better. September is prime bulb time, when the ground is still soft so you can dig deep enough to plant.
Go deep. Bulbs like to be buried so they’re protected from the winter weather, and the soil headroom allows for room to grow underground, which will result in more robust blooms. As a rule of thumb, Bousselot recommends planting bulbs three times the depth of the bulb’s diameter. So, measure the girth of the bulb, multiply that by three, and shovel your way down from the surface at least that amount. (A 1-inch bulb will require at least 3 inches of soil “headroom.”)
Give them space. You can plant bulbs side by side, but give them several inches to expand. “The bulbs will put on little bulblets every year,” Bousselot says. So with each spring season, your flowers should multiply.
Blend opposite colors. For high-impact color, select colors on the opposite ends of the color wheel. Purple and yellow pair well, as do Red and yellow. “Adding some white in there makes the other bulbs explode with color,” says Bousselot, relating how white is a garden highlighter.
Wait and watch. You can add bulb fertilizer in the planting hole before covering the bulb with soil, but it’s not necessary. And forget watering — the soil will stay moist enough throughout winter to support the subterranean bulbs. Now that you’ve done the dirty work of planting, your job is to simply wait several months and watch the show come spring!
Document the show. Take pictures of your bulbs once they bloom and file them in a garden album. This reference will help you choose colors and planting locations if you decide to add to your bulb beds.