For a dramatic start to next year’s garden, add bulb planting to your fall garden checklist. Fall bulbs (named for their planting time, not their bloom period) are often the earliest flowers to appear in the spring garden. Green shoots of leaves and stems appear through winter snow like magic. With their vivid colors and often structural appearance, they bring much-needed interest to a garden just awakening from winter.
Fall bulbs are also a great way to highlight key areas of your garden in spring; for example, a planting of bright yellow daffodil bulbs near a spring flowering shrub like forsythia will make the forsythia’s blossoms appear even more prominent. However, the best reason to plant fall bulbs may be price. Often just pennies a bulb, fall bulbs deliver huge garden impact at very little cost.
There is an incredible variety of fall bulbs available to gardeners. Flowers range from delicate snowdrops that bloom through late winter snow, to tulips that herald approaching summer. For best effect, choose a range of fall bulbs with different colors, forms, and flowering times. This will give the spring garden a lush, layered effect. Here are a few gardener favorites:
When choosing your fall bulbs, you may want to focus on varieties that are suitable for naturalizing: naturalizing means that the bulbs will divide and spread into even more bulbs over time. Daffodils, crocus, and scilla (or squill) are all prolific performers that will spread and form large clumps, increasing their visual impact in the garden year after year.
As well, some gardeners need to consider garden pests when choosing bulbs – for deer and squirrel resistant varieties look to daffodils, fritillaries (Crown Imperial), hyacinths, and grape hyacinths (Muscari).
Fall bulbs are most at home in full sun or light shade. If they are planted in an area with too much shade, the bulb can weaken and you will be left with a few leaves and no flowers.
Choose sunny locations or slightly shady areas under deciduous trees or shrubs. This will ensure the bulb receives the spring sun it needs to put on the best flower display.
Many gardeners plant their bulbs in the perennial border. Here they will provide the early color your border needs, and emerging perennial leaves will camouflage ripening foliage as the bulb finishes and begins to die back.
Fall bulbs should be planted several weeks before soil freeze-up. A rule of thumb is once the first frost has hit your area and cold temperatures are more certain, prepare and plant your fall bulbs.
This gives the bulb enough time to become established in the garden, without the fear of warm temperatures weakening the bulb’s growth for spring. If you miss the fall planting, store your bulbs in a cool, dry place until the next fall planting season.
Planting the bulb when the ground is full of frost, or in spring when temperatures are warming, will damage or destroy the bulb entirely.
To prepare your flower bed, dig and loosen the soil to about 12 inches in depth. This will make sure long reaching bulb roots have room to grow.
Next, arrange the bulbs you have chosen for your planting. Random patterns are much more pleasing to the eye, so be sure to avoid lining up your bulbs in rows like soldiers. Tossing or tumbling the bulbs over your planting area is a good way to achieve this natural effect.
Dig the soil to the necessary depth, add some bonemeal to the hole to encourage growth, and then plant the bulbs. A good rule of thumb is to plant bulbs three times as deep as the bulb is wide (to be certain, check the planting instructions on your bulb package).
Make sure the bulbs are placed with roots pointed down, tips pointed up. Cover the bulbs with soil and water well.
With such simple planting requirements, low cost, and longevity in the garden, fall bulbs are excellent plants to add to your spring garden. Visit your local plant nursery or online bulb retailers such as Veseys, Burpee, and Brecks, to find the perfect addition for your garden.