It’s best to plant spring-flowering bulbs between mid-September and mid-October, while the soil still retains a vestige of warmth. If planted too late in the season the bulbs can fail, which is exactly what happened to me last year.
“You would think he would know better,” I can hear people saying. Well in fact, I did know better, but this was a last-ditch, “poke-and-hope” effort and it failed. Well, it mostly failed and now I know why.
My situation is this. I have a new house, new grounds and am still getting things established. That’s why my gardens are all raised beds, easy to set up and start growing, just the thing for places with poor or hard-packed (my soil fits both categories) ground. But while raised beds and containers meet my vegetable and flower-growing needs, I like my spring-flowering bulbs best when planted directly in the ground, “from the ground up,” you might say.
Last summer and fall were busy times for me and I didn’t get around to planting my bulbs until just before the first snow, and only weeks before the ground froze.
Besides that, the soil where I planted my 50-some crocus bulbs was poor and very hard to dig. I succeeded in making the requisite number of V-shaped holes (another mistake). These were too narrow to allow for the introduction of compost or other nutrients.
The site itself was the raised ground beneath an ancient crabapple tree. The scheme was a good one, to establish a wide swath of color in this protected spot.
Anyway, planting too late didn’t give the bulbs time to become established before the ground froze. And the tapered holes did not allow the bulbs to sit squarely on the dirt at the bottom of the hole. The resulting air pocket beneath the bulbs did not allow the bulbs to root properly and rot eventually set in. By spring, I had only two green tips showing and neither one developed flowers. The rest were gone, no sign of them remained.
I had reserved some bulbs to plant along the foundation of my house. There, the soil was looser and I was able to dig deeper, straight-shouldered holes. In some cases, I dig larger holes in order to accept clusters of bulbs.
Also, the soil along the foundation was far warmer than under the apple tree. This gave the bulbs more time to set roots and establish themselves before the final freeze-up.
Foundation plantings have other benefits, too. The bulbs grow, flower and die back before the inevitable weeds can mature. Weed-whacking does no harm, then, when it is finally needed.
Also, bulbs planted along a foundation, being better protected, tend to last longer than those planted out in the open, where they are subject to early freezing and dissection from winter winds.
I always knew it could be done, and yet I never felt the need to try it. This year may be different. Spring-flowering bulbs being what they are, moveable feasts for the eyes, makes them easy to move about if planted in a container. Given time constraints and the nature of my soil, I plan on filling some large containers with bulbs and seeing how they perform.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Despite the few caveats, spring-flowering bulbs rank among the easiest plants of all to deal with and the return far outweighs the investment.
Maine-made postpartum documentary screens in Rockport Oct. 1