Best way to plant bulbs?

skfrey25(6a)October 22, 2012

This will be my first season planting bulbs. My dad will be helping me, so I am not totally alone in this venture. But we are expecting 101 bulbs in the mail any day now. What is the best and easiest way to plant bulbs? We will be planting primarily tulips, some species tulips, irises, and squill.

Thank you!


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Don't plant in lines or rows or individually - plant in clusters, the larger the number the better (15 is better than 5). It's just a matter of personal preference but I dislike mixing different bulbs together. I think you get better aesthetics and a more striking effect if you plant groupings of the same bulbs - tulips together, irises together, squills together, etc. I also tend to keep colors distinct as well but again, that's a personal choice.

The attached link will explain the planting procedure, which is standard for virtually any type of bulb - well-draining soil, depth of 2-3 times the diameter of the bulb, pointy end up and water well after planting :-)

I disagree about the need for fertilizing when planting - bulbs are self-contained units - everything need for healthy growth and flower production is already contained in that bulb. If necessary, you can fertilize lightly when you see the new growth emerging in spring but I see no need to fertilize new bulbs at all. Once established in the landscape, an annual fertilization may be appreciated but not necessarily required, depending on soil conditions and the bulbs' care, especially after flowering. FWIW, I've planted and grown spring flowering bulbs in both mine and clients' gardens for dozens of years and have never encountered a need for additional fertilization other than annual mulching with a good quality organic mulch.

If you do want to fertilize, I'd opt for a formulation specified for bulbs rather than just bone meal, etc. Apply in moderation and work it into the soil well. Avoid direct contact with the bulbs, especially where the roots form (basal plate).

Here is a link that might be useful: how to plant bulbs

    Bookmark   October 23, 2012 at 4:08PM
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I have had really good luck with using bonemeal so I will vouch for it - it won't hurt anything and seems to boost bloom size. But gardengal is right that the essence of the bulb is a storage unit so fertilization is not really necessary.
She is also right that things look best en masse and with several of the same thing together. But don't let that deter your artistic eye. I buy pairings and trios that I think will look good together. Sometimes it is helpful to have different windows open on your computer with the images so you can see what may look good together.
And finally just follow the instructions. Generally bulbs do well deeper, but if you live in the south you can go a bit shallower.
BTW: Tulips love sunshine!! They bloom better when they get a good amount. German bearded irises bloom better in decent sun too. The others can probably handle some shade.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2012 at 8:57PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

101 sounds like a lot of bulbs but in fact it will not be a huge job to plant them. And if they are spread over several types you will have just a few in each group. I just split 50 scillas between 3 window boxes and wish I'd bought a lot more. (They'll be in addition to daffodils and tulips). As gardengal45 says, put them in clusters for greater impact.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 12:46PM
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Thank you so much for your advice! Being a complete novice, I really had no idea what would look best. Sounds like the common consensus is that clusters are the way to go.

Two quick questions:

What do you think of the various "bulb planters"? I have seen the manual ones and the ones that attach to a drill.

Also, if my bulbs arrive a few days before we can plant them, what is the best short-term storage option?

    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 10:55PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

'What do you think of the various "bulb planters"?'

For just 101 bulbs I'd skip the gadgetry and spend the money on more bulbs. You can plant larger bulbs with a trowel. For small ones you can scoop out a shallow depression with a spade and spread the bulbs in the bottom. Then replace the soil or turf.

For short term storage just leave them in a cool, airy place.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 12:00PM
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If you are planting in clusters, bulb planters are pretty useless :-) I use a regular garden spade to dig out a planting hole large enough to accommodate the number of bulbs I intend to plant in that cluster. Space the bulbs out appropriately and fill the planting hole. Done!

If you were naturalizing with larger bulbs, the planters would work, as the effect is more one of larger sweeps of bulbs rather than just clusters. With smaller bulbs - like crocus, snowdrops, etc. - I use a dibble or sometimes just a garden fork to wedge open a sufficiently sized hole.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 1:53PM
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