Bulb mistakes I have known and now avoid

Bulb mistakes I have known and now avoid

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Greigii tulip Mary Ann

In a world gone crazy, I am relieved to turn part of my focus to my favorite fall activity: bulb planting and forcing. I’m no horticultural expert (though I do play one on the radio sometimes), but bulbs are my thing, and here’s what I got:

Don’t plant too few. A drift of hybrid tulips or daffs needs 30 minimum, and my default would be twice that, even on my small property.

Go for quality. There really is a difference in size and performance between the big box offerings and those obtained from good mail order places and some garden centers. The Dave’s Garden ratings are still reliable for mail order.

species tulip humilis Persian Pearl

Don’t ignore the species tulips and other smaller types, like erythronium, miniature daffs, eranthis, small allium, and others. I have anecdotal evidence that the species tulips tend to be ignored by deer and I have hard evidence that they perennialize, unlike their hybrid brethren. I have some that have been coming up for over ten years. They’re best scattered in groups of 3 or 5, I find.

Don’t be intimidated by deer. I’ve heard that Brent Heath recommends Plantskydd and that there are many other strategies. We don’t have them here in the city—yet—but there are a lot of bulb lovers getting it done in the burbs and country. And of course there are the ones they don’t like (daffs, allium, many others).

This isn’t a big “don’t” but I find most bulb-planting implements I’ve used to be a big waste of time and money. A nice big shovel works for big groupings, and for the small ones I just use a trowel. Sometimes I resort to the Cobrahead for the root-filled spots.

Don’t be afraid to treat hybrid tulips as annuals. I use many of them in pots, which I store in the unheated garage for the winter and bring out in early April. Here’s a post from last year on that.

Beware of the prepackaged mixes; different varieties come up at different times.

Don’t hide or braid daffodil foliage—it needs to be left alone to replenish the bulb for at least 6 weeks. Emerging perennials like hostas and daylilies (the two most common choices) can help hide the yellowing leaves.

Don’t bother with “bulb feeding” fertilizers; compost is fine.

I have close to 1,000 bulbs on order. It will be crazy trying to get them all sorted, but, come December, when the first forced hyacinths and tazettas emerge, I’ll be glad I did.

Posted by

Elizabeth Licata
on September 27, 2016 at 8:19 am, in the category Shut Up and Dig.

2 Comments
    • Todd Haiman
    • 2nd November 2016

    Wonderful article!! Chanticleer gardens recommends planting them a bit deeper than usual, makes it more difficult for the creatures to find it and.. the bulb always finds it’s way up! Another way to hide the yellowing foliage is to plant among ferns. Ditto on planting drifts.

    • Crickets
    • 4th November 2016

    Oh what fun! Would love to see some of those 1000 when they come up, if you have time to share next year! I have gone BULB CRAZY this year and have also ordered about 1000 (mostly from American Meadows and High Country Gardens). The most fun part will be the interplay of different species, heights and colors. Thanks for the article!

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