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Planting bulbs guide

Updated on January 6, 2018
  • Bulbs is a term loosely given to all true bulbs, corms, tubers, tuberous roots and rhizomes.
  • Bulbs require well-drained soil. Do not dig planting area when wet.
  • Bulbs like bonemeal or a little 5-10-10 fertilizer.
  • Do not allow the fertilizer to come into direct contact with the bulbs or the roots. Dig the hole a little deeper than needed, add fertilizer, cover with soil, and then place bulb in hole.
  • Most bulbs left in the ground for years prefer to have 8-10 hours of sunlight per day.

How to plant bulbs

Planting bulbs is very easy. Dig a hole to the proper depth and plant the bulb in an up-right manner. On most bulbs "up" would be the pointy portion of the bulb. Roots down should be the second clue. Corms such as Cyclamen and Gladiolus can be more difficult for the novice. Scilla and crocus are so round it is often hard to tell which portion belongs up. So when in doubt plant them on their side. A sideways planting of Gladiolus is by far better than planting them upside-down. The plant will know which way to grow no matter how you plant it but it will use up far too much energy growing from an upside down postion to provide you with good blooms year after year.

So now you have emptied the pouch of bulbs you have bought from the local store. You are looking carefully at each one and you have decided that half of them have no up or down. Don't feel bad. This is a common problem that plagues even the most experienced gardener on occasion. Even the common daffodil has been known to produce a bulb once in a while that will stump an experienced gardener. So, if this is your first time planting a bulb or your first time planting a particular bulb, don't panic. Look carefully for either the point or the roots. Sometimes you can tell by the papery skin and the direction it peels away. The skin should be attached at the bottom. If you still don't have a clue, ask an experienced gardener.

If a bulb is to be planted 3 inches deep, then the bottom of the hole should be three inches from the surface. If it is planted too shallow, it may not survive the winter. If it is planted too deep, it may not bloom.

Bulbs can be planted in a stacking fashion, but try not to plant them on top of each other. Late blooming daffodils are planted first, then mid-season blooming tulips are planted; on top of them are crocus followed by Muscari or Galanthus. First the little bulbs start blooming followed by the crocus, then the tulips, and then the daffodils. What a spectacular amount of almost continuous color in a little space!

If wildlife seems to eat your favorite bulbs, try planting them in wire cages. Quarter inch mesh protects against most predators. Or protect them with daffodil bulbs. Plant the bulbs over, around, and under your favorite bulbs. Tulip bulbs appeal to squirrels with the same intensity as chocolate does to us.

Hint: If planting bulbs in the lawn, use a bulb planter. Press to the proper depth, twist and remove the soil along with a grass plug. Place bulb in the hole, return some of the soil, add a pinch of bonemeal, return more soil; then add the grass plug and firmly tamp into place. When finished the grass should not look like it has been disturbed.

Planting Dutch Bulbs

Most all the Dutch bulbs we plant are raised in the Netherlands. There are a few large growers there and some smaller farms that are raising for the big boys. And then some small independent growers that have carved a niche with certain bulbs. Now these bulbs are distributed by hundreds of companies all over the world. So if you are buying from "X", "Y", or "Z" the chances are you are buying bulbs raised in the same fields.

Now there is a difference in quality and/or size of bulbs, so they are graded. Most of our distributors are selling Grade A bulbs. There is a Grade B and a C. (But it is like buying eggs - try to find Grade B. The stores all carry Grade A eggs.) In bulbs, Grade B is usually what is available for bulk purchase - which is different from wholesale. Let's say you wanted two boxcar loads of bulbs - by purchasing Grade B you would save thousands of dollars. Grade B would be a little smaller and maybe misshapen, but would still bloom; and the difference between Grade A and Grade B would be insignificant.

Now lets say you order bulbs from one of the big boys and your order totals "X" amount of money. As a thank you for your order they will send you free bulbs. You might be receiving Grade B on those. There is nothing wrong with Grade B bulbs, they are excellent for naturalizing or for mass plantings.

Dutch bulbs do not have to be raised in the Netherlands. There are many companies right here in the U.S.A. raising Dutch bulbs for the American market. Some are sold directly to the public and others are raised here; sent to the Netherlands, packaged, and sold to the public as if they were raised there.

The vast majority of the new varieties are coming from the United States. They are bred here and then tried in fields. Field trials can take up to 20 years. After field trials they are sent to the Netherlands, where they undergo additional trials before entering the market.

When it comes to buying bulbs by mail order, it is important to deal with a reputable company. One that will properly hold and ship bulbs, so they arrive fresh at your doorstep. Make sure the company has a satisfaction guarantee and that you do not have to jump through hoops to get your money back if you are not satisified.

Planting depths for various bulbs

Planting Depth
Bulbs by Botanical Name
1 inch
Tuberous Begonia, Cyclamen, Lilium candidum, Convallaria, Eranthus, Iris (bearded), Amaryllis belladonna
2 inches
Ranunculas, Achimenes, Hippeastrum, Anemone, Eranthus
3 inches
Gloriosa, Caladium, Muscari, Scilla, Galanthus, Chionodoxa
3,5 inches
Crocus, Crocosmia, Zephyanthes
4 inches
Freesia, Colchicum, Iris (Dutch), Lycoris, Fritillaria, Arum
5 inches
Polanthus, Zantedeschia, Dahlia
6 inches
Canna, Hyacinthoides, Gladiolus
6,5 inches
Tulipa, Galtonia
7 inches
Acidanthera, Sternbergia
8 inches
Narcissus, Lilium, Allium
These are the planting depths for sandy, well-drained, soils that have been amended with compost to hold moisture.

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