"It’s time to plant bulbs," by the Whistling Gardener

The Whistling Gardener shares a few tips on planting bulbs. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
The Whistling Gardener shares a few tips on planting bulbs. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. 

I have fond memories of planting bulbs as a youngster. First, mom and I would go to the garden center and study all the delicious varieties we had to choose from.

Then, after making our decision and purchases we would go home and lay the bulbs out in the beds in drifts.

Finally, I got to dig the holes, drop in a teaspoon of bone meal (to this day the smell of bone meal instantly transports me back to that time) and carefully insert the bulbs, cover them up and smooth out the ground, removing any evidence that we were ever there.

I would imagine that I was burying treasure or hiding Christmas presents to be found and opened at a later time. The anticipation was wonderful but the best part was watching them emerge from the ground two months later.

Each day after I came home from school I would check out their progress to see how much they had grown and feel the stems for a bulge that was the flower yet to come. When they did finally bloom it was like Christmas morning all over again.

Bulbs can be exciting contrary to what they might look like stuffed into a netted bag with a two-dimensional photo attached. All it takes to enjoy bulbs is a little vision and a willingness to be patient.

Most bulbs are perennials and will multiply and increase in size and spread every year so they are a good investment. Here are few of my tips on planting bulbs.

First off, plant in clumps or drifts, nothing looks dumber than a row of soldiers spaced out one foot apart along the edge of the garden bed.

Second, rarely do I plant a bulb one at a time. If I have a package of a dozen or so tulips I will dig a hole big enough to dump them all in together. It’s a whole lot faster and will look more naturalistic when they come up and bloom.

Third, planting depth is generally three times the diameter of the bulb. For most tulips, daffodils and hyacinth I will dig a whole 4-6 inches deep max, any deeper and in our heavy clay soils they may rot over the winter. For little minor bulbs 1-2 inches is plenty deep.

Fourth, don’t stress out over which end is up, the bulbs will figure it out. If you have the time and want to point all their noses up toward the sky then go for it but in the end it won’t make a difference. If you are not sure which end is up then plant them sideways.

Fifth, while bulbs contain everything they need to produce a bloom they will always look better and bigger if you throw in some organic food at the time of planting. Bone meal has always been the traditional amendment to use but a balanced bulb food is good too.

Sixth, if you are short on space or have terrible soil try planting bulbs in containers. It’s quick and easy and when they start to die down you can remove the containers from sight.

October is the consummate month to plant bulbs and you can find a good selection now so don’t delay. Just remember to plant them once you get home!

For a more in-depth presentation on gardening with bulbs come to our class Saturday, October 10, 2015, at 10 am here at the nursery.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at

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