Planting bulbs now will be rewarded months later
When you plant bulbs in the fall, you bury something that looks pretty brown and boring.
Come spring, your hard work pays off. First, a green shoot emerges from the soil, followed by leaves that frame colorful flowers.
Presto, your brown, boring bulbs — alliums, tulips, crocuses, daffodils and hyacinths — are buried treasures that send you into spring fever.
Choosing the bulbs to bury gets better — and more challenging — each year.
“If you look at all bulbs, there really are literally hundreds of thousands of different varieties to choose from,” says Becky Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in southeastern Virginia. The Heaths have been chosen as suppliers of 100,000 daffodils to be planted in various cities and counties in October and November as part of the Marathon Daffodil route in honor of the Boston Marathon, according to a recent Boston Magazine.
“With that much variety, sometimes blooms begin to look a little bit alike. So, it’s truly the unique and unusual that really stands out.”
To get that uniqueness among your buried treasures, look for these new gems, and get them planted in the next few weeks:
u Allium Pink Jewel. Alliums make great “bridge plants,” connecting the end of spring to the beginning of summer, according to the Heaths. Alliums are ornamental, edible onions, and their strong flavors and onion smell are a turnoff to critters that like to use your garden as a personal buffet.
Pink Jewel features softball-sized blooms that stand out much more than some other alliums, with their bright, medium pink color and their contrasting green “eyes,” says Becky. Standing about 2 feet tall, they fit most garden styles without overpowering or stealing the attention.
They are cold hardy in Zones 4-8; plant them two to three times deeper than the bulb height in well-drained, soil and full sun.
-- Narcissus Chinita. This newbie is actually an heirloom daffodil that’s been around since 1922, according to the Heaths.
Since the mid-1900s, daffodil hybridization has been toward perfection with straight petals and smooth texture and so on, but Chinita was hybridized earlier. It has a bright yellow cup, outlined in red, and its straw-yellow, overlapping petals have a slight curl on the edges.
-- Narcissus Ginter’s Gem. This “new” 15-year-old daffy is named in honor of Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, Va., according to the Heaths. Ginter’s Gem is a midspring bloomer with bell-shaped, luminous petals that beckon bees from a distance.
Daffodils prefer full sun, although half a day is acceptable; plant the bulbs three times the height of the bulb.
-- Tulip Concerto. “Tulips brighten and color a landscape like no other bulb,” says Becky Heath. “But there’s nothing like a tall elegant, creamy white tulip to add class to a garden.” Tulip Concerto offers that class with sulphur white petals, but with the addition of a yellow-edged black heart on the inside and a light blush on its tips — as if it’s saying “I’m a little devil inside,” adds Becky. It’s a base color that blends with almost any other color in the landscape, but can also stand on its own.
-- Tulip Aquilla. These double-early tulips appear in early spring, and what makes them double is that the blooms are peony- or rose-like in shape, according to the Heaths.
The straw-yellow base color of the crepe-like petals is then lined in a bright reddish-orange color. Its long-lasting flowers combine nicely with daffodils, muscari and hyacinths, and it’s a great bulb to force into bloom. Use the tulip in beds, planters and window boxes.
100 Bulbs in 30 minutes
Choose the right spot. Bulbs like sunlight, so choose a planting spot that gets at least six hours of sun daily. Remember, in spring, when the trees are leafless, you may have more light than you think. The spot must drain well, so avoid places with soggy soil where rainwater collects. Plan for about five bulbs per square foot — or about 20 square feet.
Keep it simple. Using a garden shovel, dig out the area you want to plant — about 15 minutes. Lay out some old plywood or stiff cardboard to put the dug-up soil on. Dig the trench about 6 inches deep (a bit deeper for tulips), loosen the soil a bit at the bottom. No fertilizer is necessary. The tulip bulbs you buy in the fall come fully charged with stored food, plus the embryonic flower inside that is ready to grow.
Position bulbs, all at once. Place all 100 bulbs in the trench — about 5 minutes. Place bulbs roughly three inches apart, pointy end up.
Refill the planting area with soil. Slide the soil back into the shallow trench to cover the bulbs — about 10 minutes. Don’t worry if some of the bulbs flip or turn sideways. Tulips are geotropic, which means they’ll right themselves as they grow. If the soil is dry, water thoroughly.
You’re done. Put your spade away and wait for the riot of color come spring.
Plant various layers of flower bulbs one over another. You plant the bulbs that flower latest in the spring — tulips, daffodils and hyacinths — in the bottom layer. Then you plant the bulbs that flower earlier, such as grape hyacinths and crocuses, in layers above the later-flowering bulbs with the ones that flower earliest in the top layer. This way, the bulbous plants emerge and flower successively. The result will be one colorful surprise after another as each kind produces a new gorgeous floral display.