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Tips for Planting Spring Bulbs
by Neil Moran - October 2013

It’s time to think spring! Spring bulbs, that is. You can plant spring bulbs right up until the ground freezes in the Upper Midwest, but it is best to get them in a little ahead of the big freeze, if you can. Tulip (Tulipa spp.), daffodil (Narcissus spp.), hyacinth (Hyacinthus spp.), Crocus, Scilla, snowdrop (Galanthus spp.) and glory-of-the snow (Chionodoxa spp.) are all beautiful options for the spring garden.

Bulbs can be planted in a variety of situations, such as along the border of a flowerbed, mixed in a cottage-style garden and even naturalized in the lawn. Just make sure you plant enough of them to make a statement.

Planting bulbs in a flowerbed simply requires digging a hole to the correct depth. Some say that depth should be three times the diameter of the bulb, but read the instructions to be sure.

Crocus and other small bulbs do well when naturalized in the lawn.1

Plant in Clusters

In flowerbeds or between trees and shrubs, dig a wide hole the desired depth and plant an uneven number of bulbs in a cluster or grouping for a showy planting. You can also layer bulbs. Dig a wide hole 6 or 8 inches deep. Place the largest bulbs, usually tulips and daffodils, in the hole. Back-fill with soil until just the tips of the bulbs are showing. Plant smaller bulbs, such as crocus, snowdrops or grape hyacinths (Muscari spp.), amongst the tips of the larger bulbs. You can also plant bulbs individually, but the show will not be as great.

Scatter Bulbs for Natural Look

Naturalizing bulbs in the lawn is another option, especially with smaller bulbs, such as crocus, scilla, glory-of-the-snow and grape hyacinths. Gently toss the bulbs in the area and plant them where they land. Bear in mind that if you plant tall bulbs in the lawn, such as daffodils, you won’t be able to mow that area until well after they’ve finished blooming. Mowing the leaves off the daffodils while they’re still green affects the development of the bulb and next year’s flower.

With some of the shorter, early bloomers, the foliage is ripened by the time you are ready to mow the lawn. Set the mower blade a little higher than usual and mow over them. In a flowerbed, plant bulbs among later-blooming perennials or annuals so the companion plants can camouflage the ripening foliage.

A small bulb planter or a trowel will work well for planting bulbs. However, if you’re a little hesitant to plant a mass of bulbs this year because of all the bending, stooping and kneeling that is required, fear not. There is a tool that has been on the market for a few years that will take the grunt out of this work.

The ProPlugger 5-1 is a lightweight garden tool that is about 3 feet long. It was originally designed to remove healthy plugs of grass from one spot and plug them into bare spots in the lawn. I can attest that the tool works great not only for that task, but it is also a lifesaver (knee saver?) when it comes to planting fall bulbs.

ProPlugger, designed for transplanting sods of grass, doubles as a terrific bulb planter in flowerbeds or the lawn.2

Give the newly planted bulbs a good soaking after planting. Continue to water the bulbs as well as other plants in the garden until the ground freezes.

Tip for Buying Bulbs

  • Buy firm bulbs that are free of mold. It is all right if tulips have lost part of their skin, called a tunic. Look for daffodils with two growing points, called a double-nose.
  • For a showy flowerbed or shrub border, buy the biggest and best bulbs you can afford. For naturalizing, buy less expensive, smaller bulbs.
  • Buy bulbs that are winter hardy in your USDA Zone.
  • Garden centers will have bulbs in small packages, but they will also have bulk bulbs. Bulk bulbs are usually higher quality than those in smaller packages. Usually the best selection is from mail order, online merchants, but you usually need to order in late summer or early fall.
  • Look at the bloom times of bulbs. Tulips and daffodils bloom early, mid or late season. Consider getting a mix for a long season of show.
    Select bulbs that are firm and without mold. Also select bulbs that bloom at different times to ensure a long season of color.3


1. Photo courtesy of Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
2. Photo courtesy of Bill Carney
3. Photo courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center


Neil Moran is a garden writer living in Sault Ste. Marie. Read about his trials and travails gardening in the cold climate: North Country Gardening.


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