Planting spring blooming bulbs

Ken Johnson

Now that cold weather has arrived, most gardening activities have come to an end. In addition to cleaning up your garden one other task that can still be done this year is planting spring blooming bulbs such as crocus, tulips, daffodils and a host of others.

When selecting a site for your bulbs, its important to consider the light requirements of the bulbs youll be planting (full sun, part sun/shade or full shade). Many of our spring blooming bulbs prefer full to part sun conditions. Choosing a site that provides shade during the middle of the day can oftentimes help prolong the life of the blooms. Spring bulbs will often bloom before many trees leaf out. Therefore, it may be possible to plant them under trees or shrubs that would otherwise produce too much shade to grow plants that need full sun or partial shade.

Another consideration for site selection is the soil. Make sure to choose a site that has well-drained soil. If soils remain wet for extended periods of time, the bulbs may rot. Organic matter such as compost or peat moss can be added to the soil to help improve soil drainage. Traditionally it has been recommended that phosphorous, often in the form of bone meal, be added to planting holes to help encourage root growth of bulbs. According to Washington State University, in most cases this is unnecessary as soils generally have sufficient levels of phosphorous in them. Instead, conduct a soil test to see if any additional phosphorus is needed in your soils. Plants can be fertilized once they begin to emerge in the spring with a 10-10-10, or a bulb fertilizer; just make sure not to fertilize after they have started flowering.

The most important aspect of planting bulbs is the planting depth. Packages of bulbs should indicate the depth at which they should be planted. As a rule of thumb though, bulbs should be planted two to three times as deep as they are wide. This means some of the larger bulbed plants such as tulips and daffodils should be planted 6 to 8 inches deep while smaller bulbs such as crocus should be planted 3 to 4 inches deep. When placing your bulbs in their holes, make sure to plant the nose (pointed end) up and the root plate (flatter end) down.

The ideal time to plant bulbs is approximately four weeks before the ground freezes, around late October/early November. This will give the bulbs some time to grow roots before winter sets in. However, any time before the ground freezes will do. Its better to get your bulbs in the ground than try to store them over winter.

For more information about spring flowering bulbs, visit University of Illinois Extension’s “Bulbs and More” website at

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