Plant those bulbs deep

It might be optimism, it might be delusion, it might be weakness, but whatever it is around here there always seems to be an unreasonable amount of bulbs in need of planting….  or there might not be enough.  No one is ever really sure but one thing is definite.  I have never regretted planting too many bulbs, so until I do it’s always better to err on the side of caution and overdo it if possible.

planting spring bulbs

Last weekend I tried to put everything out in order to see exactly what still needs planting.  Tiny bulbs add up, and this innocent collection is well over 1,100 bulbs.

There’s no denying that I’m a bulboholic and I think if you keep up with this blog you already know that fact.  They’re my favorite plant type and for good reason.  Each spring they just explode into growth, bloom like there’s no tomorrow, and then politely fade away, all within a few weeks.  They’re like a spring fling which burns hot and then ends on good terms.

Somehow the bulbs just find me during the summer.  I dig a clump of daffodils to thin them, find a clump of tulips when moving something else, more daffodils come out when I move a bed… before you know it there are bulbs in saucers, bags, and boxes all over the garage, plus a few I pick up at the nursery.  This year an early clearance sale at Van Engelen’s added a few hundred more crocus and muscari.  You can’t overdo crocus and muscari, so obviously those needed to be purchased as well.  Since I don’t enjoy planting bulbs, 850 new crocus corms can border on autumn torture so I try to deal with them as efficiently and quickly as possible.  Here’s a trick I read online which I now love that really moves things along when planting larger numbers of small bulbs.

naturalizing crocus bulbs

Tools of the trade for naturalizing larger numbers of small bulbs in turf.  Gloves, masonry hammer and small bucket stolen from the children.

A masonry hammer seemed necessary at some point for chipping stones and breaking cinderblocks, but it’s now become invaluable for planting small bulbs in the turf of the meadow garden.  Using a shovel is much more work than I’m willing to do and when you’re trying to naturalize bulbs, or make them look like they just seeded out into your lawn on their own, then digging large sections of turf up is just out of the question.  I find the hammer much easier to use.  One swing and it’s into the ground, a pivot back and you have just the hole you need for a tiny bulb or two.

naturalizing crocus and small bulbs

One down, 849 to go.

I start off carefully, trying to get the sprouting end up and the bulb gently eased down into the hole, but after the first 100 they’re getting dropped in and jammed down whichever way works.  A quick swipe with the hammer also closes the hole.  After about an hour and a half (including two 20 minute breaks to unlock my knees and back) all the bulbs were in.  People talk about the joys of gardening but for me I far prefer sitting back after the job’s done and visualizing the results.  I have plenty of other things which need doing in and out of the house, so the less time spent prepping cute little holes and overdoing a job the better.  If one had to sum up my entire bulb planting philosophy I think ‘shallow graves’ might not be the worst term to apply.  For larger tulips and daffodils I’m not above digging out a shovelful or two of dirt, throwing in a handful of bulbs and carelessly kicking the dirt back over them without bothering to prep the soil or put the bulbs right side up again.  In the vegetable garden some bulbs go into trenches so shallow that by the time the compost rots away from above them the tops of the bulbs are actually at the soil surface…. although this has just as much to do with thin soil and poor drainage as it does with a lack of enthusiasm for digging.

shallow tulip bulbs

These tulips might be on the shallow side. The original bulbs have split in two and both appear to be healthy blooming size bulbs, but if left uncovered mice and rabbits will likely find them and have a nibble.

I often read that in order to have bulbs such as tulips last longer and re-bloom reliably they should be planted as deep as possible, sometimes up to a foot deep.  This sounds like a lot of unnecessary work and I’m completely against it.  Perhaps a shallow bulb is more likely to split due to stress such as drought, but for the most part mine come back best when the spring is long and cool, tulips are deadheaded (daffs and hyacinths don’t seem to care), and tulips are either dug up for the summer or not watered in a spot which is nice and dry.  Planting depth, as long as it’s at least a couple inches down, doesn’t seem to factor in much at all and unless someone shows me actual research to prove otherwise I’m going to say deep planting is one of those often repeated bits of advice which don’t really do much here or there.

pink impression tulips

I planted these ‘Pink Impression’ tulips a few years ago and finally got around to getting more this fall. The new bulbs are from a good nursery and huge, so I know they’ll add to an even more awesome show next spring!

So we’ll see this spring if my lazy planting methods pay off again.  Good soil prep and proper planting depth are always a great thing, but I prefer to not overthink gardening.  If a squirrel can successfully plant sunflowers and oak trees throughout my flower beds, and the best iris can survive a year under the compost pile, I think I can pop a few bulbs into the ground without a PhD and still get good results.  I’m already looking forward to seeing the ‘bulked up’  meadow plantings next spring.

crocus lawn of dreams

The crocus plantings in the meadow garden began with approximately 500 bulbs,  this fall I’ve more than doubled that number 🙂

Two issues may still stand in my way.  Rabbits have huge appetites once they discover fresh crocus flowers, so I may have to do something about that come springtime.  The second worry is that the mixed crocus were irresistibly cheap when compared to the single color varieties I had been planting in the past.  Hopefully the Technicolor patches look as nice as the solid color patches I have now.  I did try to keep the single colors closer together and the mixed ones more spread out but who knows how this naturalizing theory will work out in the real garden.  If worse comes to worse the bunnies will make quick work of any mistakes.

Have a great weekend and I’d love to hear which bulbs have made the cut for you this year.  One request though,  please don’t rub it in too much that you’ve already completed your planting 🙂

29 comments on “Plant those bulbs deep

  1. pbmgarden says:

    Can’t have too many bulbs. Love your crocuses in the meadow.

  2. rusty duck says:

    The hammer technique looks just the thing for the lazy gardener (me). But as bulbs are mouse food I haven’t planted many.. so, yes, they are all done 🙂

    • bittster says:

      Good job on getting the bulbs planted. I’m looking forward to seeing the spring pictures!
      I don’t think anyone would look at your house and garden and think laziness 🙂

  3. AnnetteM says:

    Well I would love to say they are all done – and indeed they were until yesterday. I can’t complain though as we received a present of a box full of bulbs from Holland! I have no idea where to plant them, but as some are varieties that I already have I can just expand the planting area. The small bulbs will fit it at the front of the borders, so there is only one problem: it is freezing cold and has been snowing!

    • bittster says:

      I think I saw that things have warmed up bit again for you, so hopefully the bulbs can go in once things become civilized again….
      I’m a bit jealous though. This might be winter for you yet here it’s only just begun. Ice and snow are yet to come and I’m sure shoveling and weeks of white will be on the calendar soon enough.

      • AnnetteM says:

        Yes, things did warm up thanks and I got all the bulbs in. It is now rather windy but not too cold just now. I don’t envy you your weather, I hope it isn’t too bad a winter for you.

  4. Well, seeing as I’m not planting any bulbs here at the Temporary Garden, you are 100% safe from me in the Fall Planting Competition. 😉 And like Rusty Duck, my neighborhood has a serious rodent problem which means any effort would probably be wasted. The only bulbs left from prior owners seem to have been a couple of alliums next to the streetside mailbox, some muscari in one back bed, and one or two croci here and there.

    Making note: “Look for masonry hammer at Lowe’s during next trip to buy leaf bags”… thanks! 🙂

    • bittster says:

      Gosh I hope you’re done buying leaf bags.
      Voles are the rodent I direct all my hate towards. If voles ever move into the garden here I will seriously consider getting a cat. As it is now I turn a blind eye to the strays and half wild pets which stalk through every now and then and I think it makes a world of difference to the rodent population.
      Voles wiped out masses of crocus and tulips at the old LI garden. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I finally left home 😉

      • Ah, I suspect you lived on the North Shore then. 😉 My gardening friend who lived near the juncture of Nicholls Rd and the LIE was plagued with them. I never saw any on the South Shore but this past spring I found a dead one inside the shed here at the Money Pit (N Shore).

  5. Christina says:

    No, I haven’t finished yet, I actually decided to give all my tulips some time in the fridge before planting as they don’t really have enough cold treatment here. So I still have a lot to plant.

    • bittster says:

      I always thought your tulips did so well in the ground, but then maybe once planted they take to a better timetable and can tolerate a little less chilling. I notice a huge difference between newly planted and ‘senior’ plantings. Once the proper planting time comes around most garden tulips are already well rooted while the new ones are still fully dormant. I could imagine these dormant bulbs needing a little more time to cool off and settle in.
      That said, we never have a lack of cold treatment for planted bulbs in this zone 😉

  6. Cathy says:

    I think I’ve finished, but I may still have a bag or two in the cellar…. I love your description of how you plant them and the hammer is a great idea. I usually start off with the best of intentions but end up shallow planting too when the ground is just too hard or my fingers are numb and my back hurts! The squirrels/voles have already dug up quite a few. The squirrels tend to replant them somewhere else tbough so I don’t mind too much. 😉

    • bittster says:

      Haha, I’m imagining your squirrels inspecting and re-arranging your bulbs behind you!
      For a few days I was finished, but then an online sale tempted me again, so another smaller box is on the way.
      I keep telling myself how worth it the blooms will be!

  7. Chloris says:

    The masonry hammer sounds like a good idea. Bulb planting is such a chore. Tulip planting is the worst, because every time I dig a hole I slice through a bulb that is there already. As for deep planting, life is too short. I have still got bags of bulbs waiting to go in. I am hoping to wake up one day and be really in a bulb- planting mood. Maybe tomorrow.

    • bittster says:

      I hope the bulb planting mood has struck! Mine did, and everything was planted but then I found a few more things I needed… so once again a few more bags to go in.
      I admire those gardeners who claim to enjoy the labor of gardening. I admit it may be worthwhile exercise, and far better than sitting in front of the tv, but I for one am more than happy to watch others do the work and just offer a little advice here and there.
      Planning is another thing I can’t relate to. I always seem stuck on placing bulb after bulb in the same spot and it’s so discouraging to slice through a healthy tulip or lily when planting another tulip or lily.

  8. johnvic8 says:

    I just planted a bunch. I hope we all have good luck with them.

  9. Decided to plant willy nilly and hope the critters don’t eat them this winter. I heard the super depth for tulips is so they don’t get the summer rain which they don’t want. If you are planting them where you are not watering them, I think that does the same thing.

    • bittster says:

      That makes some sense to plant deep and away from summer watering. I’ll have to think on that!
      Most of my plantings run willy nilly, and when they bloom in May I’m just as pleased as ever… and you can always move them in June when it’s not so chilly 🙂

  10. Indie says:

    Love your crocus in the grass! I love spring blooming bulbs, and usually buy more than my wrists can handle with all the digging. I’ll have to try that hammer idea! This year I used the time to dig for bulbs as a way to also loosen a bunch of the clay in my garden, so I dug whole sections of the garden up, and then threw in a bunch of bulbs. Daffodils are my favorite, especially the miniature ones!

    • bittster says:

      Planting bulbs as well as loosening clay… that sounds like far more work than I like to take on, but it’s so rewarding when you plant in the improved soil next spring!
      Actually I’m in the process of finishing up a new bed this weekend, so maybe I’ll enjoy the same ‘good soil’ experience next spring. Mine is much lazier though, I’m only throwing leaves and grass clippings and compost on top of lawn and hoping for the best!
      I love daffodils as well but have far too many. Let me know if you ever want any, I always need homes for the extras I dig up!

  11. Can you believe no bulbs…not a one as I ran out of time with my injury…next year I am moving many, dividing some and will definitely be planting loads, I hope.

    • bittster says:

      Rest and recovery are so important, the bulbs can wait another year. I know you’ll have plenty of great things coming up regardless!
      I have so many I keep saying I’ll move. Then another spring comes and they’re still in the same place 🙂

  12. You are my hero! I’m now kicking myself for not buying more small bulbs. This fall I planted about 200 tulips (mainly in containers), 75 Muscari and 25 ‘Purple Sensation’ Alliums. I love the masonry hammer planting method – will definitely try that next year. And I also use the dig a hole/throw in a handful of bulbs when it comes to tulips and narcissus. Rabbits attacks on Crocus are maddening – let me know if you come up with a good defense. When I see the flower buds nipped off the stems my head explodes. Siberian Squill are a good alternative, though admittedly not as beautiful and charming as Crocus.

    • bittster says:

      Your alliums and muscari will be awesome, and the tulips are always a show on your steps, so I’m sure you will be in excellent shape come springtime… but I know the feeling of ‘should have bought just a few more’ all to well. I have another small box on its way. I also kicked myself once the ones I had were planted and decided less is not more.
      My plan of attack for the rabbits is cross my fingers and hope their little bellies fill before they wipe everything out. So far it hasn’t worked as well as I hoped.

  13. Your post about bulbs made me smile! Love the cool hammering method of planting crocuses. I can’t grow those here! We have a voles/moles invasion in our beds and lawn like we had never seen before. Today I spotted a trapper in the neighborhood when I saw his professional van in front of a house. I called him for help with the issue I have. When he told me that setting up his traps will be $350 and each vole caught will be $75, I laughed and said Thank you very much for the info! So this year I added a couple new varieties of very early blooming irises and three kinds of camassia. I told myself NO MORE tulips since I was really BAD in the last two summers and didn’t even dugl out and split the ones I have, but two shades of lavender purple tulips made it in my cart! I now realized that one bag of irises are not yet planted and in the meanwhile I bought some red allium and snowdrops on sale somewhere! So more planting left for me and it is December 16!

  14. bittster says:

    I hope you’ve made out well with your last bulbs!
    I don’t envy you for the vole invasion. Growing up in NY we were vole free for years until finally they found the garden. Crocus and tulips went first, followed by random vegetables being pulled down into the soil of the vegetable garden. It was really as dramatic as a carrot top shaking and then being tugged down into the earth! Things got worse for a few years with even the loss of mature plantings such as a cherry tree, lilacs, rose bushes, butterfly bushes, and many many perennials and bulbs. I moved out, my mother struggles on by planting in pots and then planting the pots into the soil with rims above soil level. Most bulbs are no longer planted and mulch is avoided. It’s a struggle and I wish you all the best.

  15. Sarah says:

    Please share pictures of the blooms! I really wish I could grow tulips in Florida. They are sold here, but are best babied in pots. Yay spring!

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