Gardening: Planting bulbs in the fall
For the past 3 decades or more I've planted the bulbs of spring-blooming plants every fall. Some years it was just a couple of dozen, other years more than 100. October is a good time to plant them, though one year I was traveling and didn't plant my bulbs until November. I had to shovel snow off the ground to plant bulbs that year.
I plant bulbs because it gives me something to look forward to during the depths of winter. I dream of clouds of purple scilla and white snowdrops, hillsides awash with golden daffodils, vases of tulips on every flat surface of the house. For the price of dinner for two at a moderate restaurant, you can buy 100 bulbs or more – and now is the time to do so.
I love snow drops (Galanthus nivalis). Granted, they're small and their blossoms hang down so they're hard to see their faces well, but they're the first to bloom, often coming up through frozen soil in early March. I transplanted fifty or a hundred from my childhood home in Connecticut 35 years ago, and by now I have uncountable numbers. They sneak into my lawn, popping up far from where I put them. I don't know how they move around – perhaps by seed, or perhaps with the help of those otherwise pesky rodents, the squirrels.
Other early bloomers are scilla (Scilla siberica) and glory-of-the-snow (Chionodaxa spp.), both blue to purple (glory-of-the snow also comes in pink and white). Like snowdrops, they're small – so they need to be planted in groups of 50 or more to really look good.
Crocuses also can bloom early, though I've never had any as early as my snowdrops. There are at least 80 species of crocus and many hundreds of colors, but most garden centers and grocery stores just offer a couple of species and three colors – large purple, white or yellow. For that reason I study the bulb catalogs to explore other possibilities.
The bulb company McClure and Zimmerman has an excellent array of crocus, but I find their website awkward, so it is probably worth calling for a print catalog (800-546-4053). Brent and Becky's bulbs is a family run business that is also excellent (www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com or 804-693-3966). You may be surprised to see that crocus bulbs can cost over a dollar each, but the rarer varieties are pricey.
Daffodils are wonderful, in part, because animals don't eat them, not rodents, not deer. There are hundreds of kinds of daffodils in 13 major categories. Some bloom early, some late. Some produce one flower per stem, others several. I continue to explore the daffodils each year by buying some new ones- and you should, too.
If you grow hostas, you know that their leaves don't get very big until June or July. I like to plant clumps of daffodils between clumps of hosta so that their leaves will cover the foliage of the daffodils after they bloom.
In recent years I have been buying 100 tulips and planting them in one bed. I like them as cut flowers – and they make terrific gifts. I like having enough to pick dozens at a time, and having them all come into bloom at once.
Most tulips, for me, tend to run out of energy and get fewer in number as the years pass, so now I consider them annuals. I dig a hole about 4-5 feet long and 2 feet across and plant all 100 in one place. Then, once they are done, I cut off the foliage and plant annual cut flowers like zinnias for summer enjoyment. Wasteful? I suppose, but life is short, and I love them so.
I've found that my CobraHead weeder (www.CobraHead.com or 866-962-6272) works well for planting individual small bulbs like snowdrops or crocus in the lawn. I just push it into the soil the appropriate depth, pull back to create a small slice in the soil, take out the tool and drop in a bulb. The slice in the lawn closes up easily with a push of my hand.
My last bits of advice on planting bulbs: add some slow-release organic fertilizer (or bulb booster) at planting time, and mix plenty of compost into the soil. Bulbs need good drainage to thrive, and compost helps with that. If you are worried about rodents, you can sprinkle them with cayenne pepper, though its effect only lasts for a year.
Lastly, buy plenty of bulbs. Come spring, you'll revel in their beauty and enjoy them much more than that ephemeral dinner for two you might skip now in order to afford their cost.
Read Henry Homeyer's blog about how to save your dahlia tubers for next year at https://dailyuv.com/news/862147. While there you can up for an email alert every time Henry posts his blogs.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.