TC Conner is a freelance writer, photographer and musician. He recently published book titled Through the Seasons with The Write Gardener. For an autographed copy email TC at

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Planting Spring Flowering Bulbs
by TC Conner    

Crocus chrysanthus ‘Advance’ blooms in late winter/early spring.

Daffodils, crocus, tulips, alliums and hyacinths are my top five picks for spring-flowering bulbs. A yard full of daffodils, tulips and hyacinths epitomizes the beauty of spring. So why not do yourself (and all who glance at your landscape) a favor and plant more than your fair share of these glorious spring-flowering bulbs?

If you have your bulbs now, planting begins soon. But if you didn’t order new ones yet, it might be too late to receive them before it is time to plant. Consider visiting your local garden center or home improvement store — and hurry! When should you plant your spring-flowering bulbs? In the fall of course, but here are four different benchmarks you can use that will help you pinpoint a better time for planting.

•    About six weeks before the ground freezes, or… 
•    When soil temperature dips below 60 F (No soil thermometer? No problem, see below.)
•    After the first hard frost. And you’ll know a hard frost when you see one on the morning it occurs — your car windshield will be frosted over, roofs on houses look white, and you can see your breath as you walk to the car. So, you’re not up that early? Okay, use this last tip to know when to plant...
•    Four to eight weeks after you start seeing bulbs for sale in local nurseries and greenhouses.

‘Ivory Floradale’ tulips are perfect for use in spring bouquets.

Brent and Becky's Bulbs takes pride in claiming ‘Sweet Smiles’ as “one of our very own seedling” daffodils.

It’s probably too late to order from gardening catalogs now, but you can always try contacting your favorite bulb catalog company and ask about their shipping dates. McClure and Zimmerman, in Friesland, Wis., offers spring and fall bulbs, give them a call at 1-800-546-4053 or visit Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, Va. also offers a large selection of spring- and summer-flowering bulbs, call 877-661-2852 or visit for more info on when they ship.

Now that you have an idea about when to plant bulbs, how deep should you plant spring-flowering bulbs? Generally speaking, tulips are planted 5 inches deep, smaller bulbs are planted 2 to 3 inches deep, and anything larger than tulip bulbs are planted 8 inches deep. Bulb gardening guru Doug Green says: “I’ve planted tulips from 3 inches to 3 feet deep to see what would happen. They all bloomed well the first year but the shallow-planted ones didn’t last as long as the more-deeply planted ones.” His reasoning behind that: “Something ate them the second season because they were just at vole and chipmunk level.”

When considering where to plant your bulbs, there’s more than one method you can use. If you’re starting a new flower bed specifically for spring-flowering bulbs you’ll want to prepare the spot now. Remove sod if necessary, amend your soil (with recommendations from a soil test), and choose bulbs that will enhance your spring garden. Know how much sun the new area receives and know what the light requirements are for the new plants you’ll be using, and their growth and flowering habits. All of this information is vital before you put that first bulb in the ground, regardless of planting method.

For areas around the yard that need spring color — such as a spot between two ornamental trees or shrubs for example — you can use a method of planting that only requires peeling back the sod. Use a sharp spade to cut and peel back the sod, loosen the soil to the desired planting depth (about two to three times the height of the bulbs), plant the bulbs, and then lay the sod back down like a carpet. This method can be used in just about any area of the yard. Come spring, watch the area to see which plants do the best.

You also can plant spring-flowering bulbs in containers, if you’re short on space. You simply plant the bulbs in your favorite pot. Be sure to use containers made from material that can take freezing weather: Styrofoam, polyurethane, wood, hypertufa or concrete are good choices. Then place the pot where you want more spring color. Bulbs planted this way will get their required dormancy period just as they would if they were planted directly in the soil.

In the book The Garden Primer Barbara Damrosch writes: “Spring bulbs must surely have been invented by some divine marketing expert to make life easier for beginning gardeners. A bulb is like a prepackaged kit, complete with its own stored food.” Plant it in fall and do nothing more until spring. Use a digging tool that you’re comfortable with, drop the bulb or bulbs into the hole, cover, tamp, and you’re done. That’s really all there is to it. Don’t make gardening any more complicated than what the weeds make it!

Photos courtesy of Brent and Becky's Bulbs


Posted: 09/09/13   RSS | Print


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