Early October is one of the best times to plant bulbs in the North. These tiny, dried bulbs will bloom from early April until June, if you plant a succession of bulbs. Over the years, the hort society has offered a number of tried-and-true bulb planting tips. Here are some of our favorites.
Get beyond tulips and daffodils. The so-called “minor bulbs” can bring a succession of bloom, from early April on, according to the writing team of Mary Henry and Margaret Purcell, who sang the praises of minor bulbs in an article in the September/October 2006 Northern Gardener. In their Minneapolis garden, Henry and Purcell followed three rules for bulbs: 1) you can never have too many (plant dozens or hundreds); 2) plant them in large drifts for maximum effect; and 3) in any given cluster, limit yourself to at most two complementary colors.
Pay attention to soil. After they are planted, the bulbs will set down roots, then sit out the winter before growing and blooming in spring. A somewhat sandy, well spaded soil works best for bulbs. In 1909, grower E.A. Smith of Jewel Nursery in Lake City recommended well-decayed manure as a fertilizer over commercial blends. Mix the manure (or other compost) with some sand before adding it to the hole.
Pointy end up. It does matter which way the bulb is planted in the hole. Most bulbs have a flatter end, where the roots will emerge, and a pointy one, where the stalk and leaves will come up in spring. When bulb planting, you want the pointy end facing up.
Consider planting lilies in fall. While most people plant lilies and other summer-blooming bulbs in spring, you can plant them in fall, Smith said. (Long-time nursery owner Mike Heger agrees.) Plant them deeper than you would tulips or daffodils (about 8 inches deep) and mulch after the soil has frozen.
If you have critters, plant daffodils. Voles, mice, rabbits and more love a tender bulb or some fresh tulip foliage in spring. Daffodils, however, they hate. If critters are your issue, plant daffodils for spring bloom.
Bulb planting is a fun fall activity and the payoff is incredible in spring.
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