Planting Fall Bulbs
by Rob Sproule
When it comes to the garden, May is a paradoxical time. It’s the month of rebirth, when winter’s icy grip loosens and sap slowly starts to flow again. But it’s also a brown and rather lifeless in the garden, with perennials and shrubs listless from their 6 month slumber. So what’s an eager gardener to do when it’s still freezing at night (so you can’t plant annuals), and your perennials look like they have a bad hangover (and no coffee). The answer: plant early May colour in the fall.
In the fall, when you’re thinking more about school supplies than the garden, it’s counter-intuitive to wrap our heads around planting for spring. In May, however, when your triumphal red and yellow tulips are turning every head in the neighbourhood, it will make you look and feel pretty darn savvy. A lot of gardeners, especially younger ones, adore the classic beauty of tulips, daffodils, and crocus in the spring but don’t know how to make it happen. Here are the basics:
Which Fall bulbs Work Best?
Before you head to the garden centre to pick your fall bulbs, remember that not all varieties grow well outside in Alberta. Some bulbs, like hyacinth, are meant to be “forced” indoors (I’ll cover that in a future article). Tuilps, Crocus, Alliums, Fritillaria, Scilla, and Snowdrops are the best bulbs for our climate. Daffodils/ Narcissus will grow but will need some mulching for extra insulation as they are tender.
Planting Your Bulbs
This couldn’t be easier! Find a sunny spot amongst your perennials. You don’t need to worry about planting them under deciduous trees such as willows and aspens, because there will be no leaves to block the sun when they bloom. For tulips and daffodils, press your trowel down 6-8″and pull it towards you to create a space. Drop the bulb in, sharp end up. Cover and repeat until you’ve planted about 6-10 tulips per clump (single tulips don’t have the same wow-factor).
For most other hardy bulbs, plant 2-3 inches down. If you are a Mark Cullen fan, plant them at a depth of 3 times the width of the bulb. I suggest adding throwing some bulb food, like Myke for bulbs or a pinch of bone meal, into each hole as you plant. Make sure to water them well so the bulbs are insulated in ice through the winter.
While the Bulbs are Growing
When bulbs bloom in the spring it’s like finding a 20 dollar bill in your winter coat. You will probably forget they are there and when they bloom it will be a treat! One day, probably on your way to go to work, you’ll see the crisp, bright buds of crocus and snowdrops poking up through the patches of melting snow. You’ll spend the rest of the day with a big grin on your face, comforted by the knowledge that spring is coming, and your world will thaw and bloom once again.
After the Bulbs are Finished
Your bulbs aren’t going to disappear completely after they are finished blooming. Their leaves remain and can become unsightly later in the spring as your perennials and annuals assume their proper glory. If you want them to bloom next spring, it’s important not to cut back the foliage for 2 months after the blooms have finished. The plant needs time to pull nutrients back into the bulb.