Bulb basics

Bulbs bring us long-lasting and spectacular flowers that reward the patient. You have to plant your bulb several months before you expect anything resembling a bloom but it is well worth the wait.

Bulbs need to be planted in a particular season because they spend a long time resting underground. For early spring flowering bulbs like jonquils, tulips, and daffodils, you plant in the fall. For late spring and summer (flowers like dahlias) plant the bulbs in early spring, once the danger of frost has passed. Fall-flowering bulbs like crocus go into the soil in late spring as well. Garden stores and online suppliers generally sell the bulbs during the appropriate planting season.

Some spring bulbs, like tulips, require a chilling period in order to bloom. If you live in a climate that does not have a cold winter, you have two choices. Some online suppliers will provide (for a small fee) bulbs that arrive pre-chilled. Plant them right away! Otherwise keep the bulbs in the refrigerator in an uncrowded brown paper bag for six weeks prior to planting them in the spring.

A container makes an excellent home for bulbs. More often than not, you can plant them in the spring, enjoy their blooms later in the season, and dig them up in the fall to reuse the following year saving some cash in the process. Depending on where you live, you may be able to leave the bulbs in the containers all year long.

Bulb Basics

If you live in a very harsh winter climate, spring bulbs will often freeze over the winter. If you can, put the planted container in an unheated indoor spot, like a garage, over the winter. If you don’t have that sort of space, use a container that is at least 14 inches across and wrap it in burlap for the winter.

When it comes to planning your container display first decide whether you want your flowers to bloom all at once (momentary) or at various times throughout the season (periodic). To create a luscious momentary arrangement choose flowers that bloom at roughly the same time and have similar light and water requirements (see following reference charts). Mixing flowers of different colors, shapes, and heights usually makes for the most stunning display.

A periodic bulb assortment blooms at different times of the season. It works best to combine bulbs that are not planted very deeply, like grape hyacinth, with bulbs that are planted at a greater depth, like dahlias. It is important to plant bulbs with similar sun and water requirements.

When it comes to choosing bulbs don’t let the packaging sway your selection. Look for bulbs that are firm and heavy, with no soft spots or mildew. When you plant your bulbs, loosen the soil to the depth of about 5 to 7 inches. Add a little bone meal, available at a garden store, to provide nutrients. Plant the bulbs according to the instructions, but generally you will need a hole that is about three times as deep as the height of the bulb. Plant it with the narrow end up—that’s where the stalk emerges. Water the container thoroughly after the bulbs are planted.