Bulbs, Bulbs, and More Bulbs


Now is the time to be thinking of purchasing all those beautiful bulbs to be ready for a breathtaking display in spring.  The bulb in essence is stored food and therefore it is very important that you purchase good quality bulbs.  The larger the bulb, the larger the bloom.  If you purchase bulbs before planting time, store them in a cool, dry, well ventilated area until planting.  Temperatures too high will cause the bulbs to dry out and result in injury to the flower bud inside the bulb.

Most spring bulbs demand a sunny or partial shaded location in a well-drained soil.  Prepare the bed before planting your bulbs by adding a little compost to the planting area.  It is good to have a plan of what bulbs will be planted where so as to take full advantage of the various bloom types, sizes of flowers, time and color of bloom.  The more effective bulb plantings are masses of the same color and kind of bulb.

Plant bulbs according to guidelines on the package. The rule of thumb is to plant a bulb to a depth of 3 x the diameter of the bulb.

Muscari (Grape Hyacinth)      ..          ..          2” – 3”

Daffodils          ..          ..          ..          ..          2” – 5”depending on size of bulb)

Dutch Iris         ..          ..          ..          ..          3”

Snow Flake     ..          ..          ..          ..          3” – 4”

Tulip    ..          ..          ..          ..          ..          4” – 5”

Bulbs planted too deep perform poorly, yet those planted too shallow are often injured by sudden changes in temperatures from hot to cold in the winter.

Proper planting dates are important.  The proper planting time allows the bulb to form a good root system, and to receive the necessary cold weather exposure before spring flowering.  Most spring flowering bulbs can be planted from October to December when night temperatures are consistently below 60 degrees.

To plant, place the bulb on a flat cushion of soil.  Do not place the bulb in a “V” shaped hole, as this type of planting will allow an open air space to remain beneath the bulb, and will retard root growth and may cause bulb rot.  Water after planting and mulch well.  You don’t need to fertilize the planting hole as the bulb will live off its stored food.

Daffodils, Narcissi, Jonquils

Daffodils, Narcissi and Jonquils are all technically Narcissi, yet popular usage has divided them into the three general groups.  We usually think of Daffodils as those with trumpet throats; Narcissi as the white or yellow small flowering clusters, and Jonquils as the sweet smelling, small yellow flowering, rounded stemmed spring bloomers.  In the following information the three Narcissi group will be referred to as “Daffodils”.

Daffodils require little effort, yet provide so much.  Blooms will last up to eight weeks depending on varieties planted.  Colors range from white to yellow, oranges, apricot and pale pink.

They should be planted in late October and early to mid November.  Plant in full sun or filtered shade.  The bulbs should not be planted closer than 5” apart and should be covered with 3-5” of soil depending on the size of the bulb (remember plant depth = 3 x diameter of bulb).

If Daffodils are planted in well-prepared, well-drained soils, they should multiply and increase in number of blooms from year to year depending on the variety.  Where Daffodils are well-adapted, the better blooms may be obtained the second year of bloom.

The Daffodil foliage furnishes food for the bulb and for that reason should never be removed before it browns and dies in summer.  Nor should bulbs be dug before the foliage browns and dies.  The holes in the soil which are often left by dead foliage should be filled with soil, otherwise, they may serve as an entry for insects to get to the bulb or for moisture entry which may induce rot.


To achieve success with the colorful tulip, which demands cold winters to perform well, the bulbs need to be placed in the refrigerator for at least 45-60 days prior to planting.  Plant bulbs immediately upon removal from cold storage in December or early January.

The bulbs should be planted to a depth of about 4” in heavy soil, and approximately 5” in light sandy soil.  For a mass effect, place the bulbs six to eight inches apart.  Tulips make a more effective display when planted in masses of one color.  Tulips can also be used as a cut flower.

Cut only fresh blooms without removing the tulip foliage.  The ideal time to cut blooms is in late evening.  Gently roll or wrap each bloom loosely in several sheets of newspaper and plunge into a bucket of cold water, covering the entire stem with water up to the bloom head.  Leave the cut blooms outside or in a cool location overnight in the deep water.  Without recutting the stems, place in fresh water in arrangements indoors.

Grape Hyacinth or Mascari

Even though the Grape Hyacinth is a small spring bulb of the Lily family, it makes a vivid show in the spring border, groundcover bed, rock-garden, or in drifts on the lawn.  The blue or white flowers are tiny bell-shaped, appearing in compact heads or spikes in early spring.

The spring bulb grows in any kind of soil and almost under any conditions, doing equally well in sun or shade.  Plant the small bulbs in October, about 2-3” deep and 3-4” apart to allow the bulbs to multiply.  The small bulb does best when not disturbed or dug from year to year.

Grape Hyacinths which reach a height of 5-6” are best planted in masses or clumps and are vivid backgrounds or fillers for other spring bulbs such as Tulips and Daffodils.

Snow Flake (Leucojum)

The small bell flowers which are touched with tips of pale green, hang downward over dark green foliage.  Snow Flakes, which appear in the very early spring, should be planted 4” deep in October and November in sun or shade.  This bulb, unlike most others, tends to prefer shaded locations.  Once planted, they thrive best when undisturbed and return in multiplied numbers from year to year.

Happy Gardening!

Tracy Davis, Horticulturist, Guest Blogger

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