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"Fall Bulbs – What could be Easier?" by the Whistling Gardener

Now that we have had a few good soaking rains, some of you might think that the gardening season is over. But as you might expect, there are at least two more good gardening months to look forward to. At the top of my planting list is spring blooming bulbs!
Spring bulbs. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

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

Now that we have had a few good soaking rains, some of you might think that the gardening season is over.

But as you might expect, I am here to inform you that there are at least two more good gardening months to look forward to, and if it turns out to be a mild winter, several nice days scattered throughout the winter for us to connect with our yards.  

While you may be able to roll up the hoses, there will be several more opportunities to mow the lawn (especially if you did your homework and fertilized it) and lots of raking, pruning, and weeding. And don’t forget the planting, because as you all should remember, one of my mantras is: “You can plant year ‘round in the Northwest.”  

At the top of my planting list this time of year is spring blooming bulbs!

Every year about this time, we receive our fall shipment of bulbs. You know, those funny looking, dirty brown things that come in bags decorated with beautiful pictures of promises to come the following spring. And every year I am amazed at how many gardeners don’t get around to planting these little gems.  

What could be easier than digging a few holes and dropping in a handful of bulbs, covering them up and forgetting about the whole affair until the following spring when they magically emerge out of the soil and grace us with their beauty?  

Nothing could be easier, absolutely nothing. There is no watering-in, no fertilizing (although some food always helps), no staking and no soil amending. Just dig a small hole and plunk them in. And if you want to really make it easy, purchase a soil auger.  With the aid of a cordless drill, you will be done in a heartbeat. 

The best time to plant bulbs is September through November. Nurseries have their best selection this month and then it goes downhill from there. 

Tulips and daffodils are the main players but you can also choose among hyacinths, probably the most fragrant spring blooming bulb, crocus, little harbingers of spring, alliums, those giant blue globes that don’t bloom until June, and several other minor bulbs that all together add up to the symphony of color that bulbs can bring to your garden in spring.  

It is so easy to plant bulbs that it is a wonder more gardeners fail to do it this time of year.

Bulbs should be planted in “drifts” - meaning clumping several together to form a small mass of color. Instead of digging one hole per bulb, you dig a larger hole which will accommodate a handful (maybe six to ten).  

Never ever line them up in rows like little soldiers, unless you work at Disneyland. Many bulbs will naturalize themselves over time, so a loose clump makes more sense and will feel more realistic.  

While more and more people are ordering online, when it comes to bulbs, nothing beats being able to actually see and touch the real thing, and you can only do that at the garden center. Plus, the grades of bulbs at the nursery are usually larger than those purchased through mail order catalogs.  

Now that the rains have softened up the soils, it is prime time to plunk some bulbs into your garden beds. You can even put bulbs in your containers as you switch out the top plants for fall beauties.  

A short trip to the nursery and a few hours, at most, will bring you weeks of joy starting late winter and into spring. Nothing could be easier! 

Stay safe and keep on gardening.

Sunnyside will be hosting our next free classes next weekend. "Fall Foliage & Winter Wonders," on Saturday, October 10th, 2020, at 10:00 am; and "Spring Blooming Bulbs" on Sunday, October 11th, at 11:00 am. For more information or to sign up, visit

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at

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