Here’s the thing: If you want tulips in the spring, you have to plant bulbs. Now.
I say this to myself every spring when I drive past flocks of daffodils and tulips. I have even gone so far as putting it in my date book: “Plant Bulbs.” But when this time of year rolls around, and it’s chilly and sometimes gray, I find myself spending most of my energy ticking off the weeks until spring arrives again, and no energy tending to my garden.
If you’re a gardener, you can skip most of this article. You already know how to time bulbs and how to plant with regard to height. But if you need a little nudge to remind you that bulb time is now, read on. Brian Sullivan, of Ploch’s Garden Center in Clifton, gave Patch a few tips and ideas that just may get this writer out into the dirt next weekend.
“You can plant bulbs until you can’t dig into the dirt anymore,” said Sullivan, explaining that you can plant in September up through the first or second week of December if Mother Nature cooperates. Bulbs need 12 weeks of dormancy and then come up based on the ground temperature (not the air temperature) when they’re ready.
What To Plant
Sullivan recommends choosing bulbs that come up at different times so there’s always some color in the garden. Crocuses come up early, daffodils later, tulips later still. “Some bulb growers will combine various types of bulbs in a variety pack so you can get something like that to start out,” he said. If you live in an area with deer, tulips may not be your best choice. “Tulips bulbs are hors d'oeuvres for deer. They won’t touch a daffodil, though.”
How To Plant
There are as many ways to plant bulbs as there are varieties. Sullivan says if you plan to dig up the bulb in the summer, it’s a good idea to plant them separately, as they’re easier to find afterwards. But if you plan to leave them in after they die off, you can dig a small trench for your row of bulbs and alternate early and late bloomers. Sullivan also recommends considering the height of the flower when you plant your bulbs. “I’d put the crocuses in the front and the taller flowers behind. That way if the daffodils start to come up, they don’t obscure the smaller flowers.”
After They Die
“You really need to let them die back,” said Sullivan. “I know it looks bad, the brown stems and leaves in the garden, but you can’t dig them up until they’ve completely died back. And if you’re planning on leaving them in the ground, you just have to be willing to look at something a little ugly.” One of Sullivan’s strategies to minimize the “ugly” is to make sure other flowers are coming up in the dying flowers’ place. He times his bulbs so there’s always color, and uses annuals that bloom early to camouflage dead leaves and stems. “You want to plant enough in your bed to make it pretty all the time,” he said.
- Use bone meal or some other bulb nutrient when you plant: add a spoonful under the bulb before you cover it.
- Plant crocuses right in the lawn. “I saw this done once and when spring came, the lawn was filled with color. By the time you need to start mowing, the crocuses are long gone.”
- Start with a dozen or so bulbs in one area and add to them each year. It’s a work in progress. Take notes about what you did and how it looked
If you’re inspired to try bulb planting, most any garden store employee can provide guidance and information. “I get a few people every week who have never done bulbs before,” said Sullivan. “People are always asking how to start.”
Some nearby garden stores. Call ahead to ask about bulb selection:
1 696 N Beers St, Holmdel (732) 739-4243
2170 State Route 35, Holmdel, NJ 07733 (732) 264-0256
Holmdel Garden Center, 470 Redhill Road Middletown (732) 671-0199
2194 State Route 35, Holmdel, (732) 739-9350
161 State Route 34, Holmdel (732) 946-3802