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Planting Bulbs 101

The Martha Stewart Show, September 2005

Choosing bulbs
When choosing bulbs, look for firm, heavy specimens. Bulbs should not have mold or soft spots, or feel too light or dry. Think about how old garlic sometimes feels -- dried out or almost dusty.

Planting bulbs
1. Most bulbs prefer full sun and average moisture. You get extra sunlight in the spring under deciduous trees that haven't leafed out yet.

2. If you have a moist, shady spot, try planting snowdrops or Fritillaria meleagris.

3. You can plant bulbs in layers to achieve a longer period of bloom in the same spot or combinations of shorter and taller bulbs blooming together.

4. Use the height and bloom-time information supplied by bulb companies to perfect your combinations. Early bloomers include snowdrops, crocus, some daffodils and species tulips. Mid-bloomers include most daffodils, hyacinth, scilla, chionodoxa and some early tulips. Late bloomers include most tulips, grape hyacinth, Anemone blanda and some daffodils, like the poet's eye narcissus.

5. Rule of thumb: Plant the bulb at a depth equivalent to three times its height. If layering, dig a hole to the deepest depth required -- usually 8 inches or so for a tulip or daffodil -- and work bulb fertilizer into the bottom of the hole. Add bulbs. Backfill with soil up to the depth required for the next layer. You can either fill the hole completely after the last layer or top the area with a frost-tolerant annual like violas.

6. It isn't a good idea to plant bulbs directly under perennials, as it is difficult for the bulbs to come up through the crowns of the perennials.

7. After bloom, the foliage should not be cut down until it is yellow and releases easily from the bulb when you pull.

8. It is a common gardener's trick to use the same space in the garden for bulbs and an annual display. The bulbs will have finished blooming when it is annual planting time, and the rapidly growing annuals will help camouflage the fading bulb foliage. Just be sure to plant bulbs deep and plant the annuals carefully.

Bulb-Planting Tools
Bulb Dibber
A bulb dibber is very useful for planting small bulbs. Simply insert into soil, work from side to side to create hole, and insert bulb, and then firm the soil back together. The tip of a garden trowel can be used in the same manner.

Short- or long-handled bulb planter
Use bulb planters for planting larger bulbs. Bore a hole into the ground to the desired depth using the barrel of the planter. Insert the bulb and place a plug of soil back into hole; firm soil. A long-handled bulb planter will save your back digging. It also allows you to dig through tougher soil because you can use your foot to push in through the soil.

Many times, a shovel is your best bet if you are planting a large swath of bulbs. Dig one large hole, amend the soil, and plant all of your bulbs at once. It can be difficult to do in tightly planted gardens.

Mail-Order Source

General Bulb Information
For more information on the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center, visit

Bulbs Featured in Our Segment
Crocus chrysanthus 'Prins Claus'
Very early blooming white-and-purple snow crocus

Crocus vernus 'Grand Maitre'
Early- to mid-blooming dark purple crocus

Hyacinth 'Kronos'
Deep violet blue

Narcissus cyclamineus 'February Gold'
Early-blooming golden daffodil

Narcissus 'Mt. Hood'
Mid-blooming white trumpet daffodil

Tulipa 'Francoise'
Late flowering creamy yellow tulip

Tulipa 'Bellona'
Mid- to late-blooming golden yellow tulip

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