I usually get myself in trouble in the winter months when it’s cold outside and I’m perusing beautiful bulb catalogues. While sitting by the fire with a glass of wine, I order whatever strikes my fancy without concern about how much time I’ll have to spend planting them in the fall. After submitting my order with great anticipation, I get busy with the upcoming season and forget all about that sizeable bulb order I placed back in February. Until I receive the shipping acknowledgement, that is.
Despite the size of the order, somehow, I always manage to get them in the ground. One of the nice things about buying bulbs from reputable companies is that they typically ship to your location when it’s time to plant in your growing zone.
When I first started planting bulbs, I would carefully measure to make sure the bulb was placed in the ground at exactly the right depth. I no longer take that approach. Now I plant each bulb at a depth approximately twice as deep as the bulb is tall. Don’t fret if they aren’t the perfect depth. In my experience, approximate works. Plants adapt. I also used to space individual bulbs according to the directions that accompanied them. Now, instead of planting one bulb in each hole, I plant smaller bulbs in groups of 3 or 5 for an immediate naturalized effect. Sometimes it’s hard to determine which part of the bulb is the top. Anemone blanda is an example of this. When in doubt, plant the bulb on its side. Plants want to survive and typically find a way to grow and thrive if you give them a decent chance.
I have had greater success with certain bulbs versus others. Deer love tulips but they tend to leave daffodils alone since they are poisonous. Crocus tommasiniana and Allium show pest resistance also. What would late winter/early spring be without Galanthus (snowdrops)? Or Scilla (Siberian squill)? Or Chinodoxa (Glory of the Snow)? I digress. I guess I’ve made my obsession with bulbs known!
In addition to the more common bulbs, unusual bulbs provide a pop of color or an interesting texture to an established garden. Try Eremurus (Foxtail lily), Sternbergia lutea (Winter Daffodil), or Frittilaria for a wow factor. When placing bulbs in the garden, think about the life cycle of the plant. Ideally, you’ll want the decaying bulb foliage to be masked with the emerging foliage of another nearby plant. Planning ahead will serve you well as you layer bulbs with other plants in the garden.
As far as sourcesfor bulbs, my friend Bridget, who is also active in the Pacific Bulb Society, recommends Van Engelen (for volume), their sister company John Scheepers (for less) and Brent and Becky’s (for specialty). The admin of a Facebook gardening group I belong to recommends Quality Daffodils, Old House Heirloom Bulbs, and Colorblends.
Go ahead and mark your calendar now. Pick a date in the height of winter when you can relax with a bulb catalogue and order away. Then sit back and wait. You may experience momentary panic when your package arrives, and you realize you have a lot of planting to do. But I promise you those little bundles of plant goodness will bring you great joy in the coming season.