Bulbs Archives

December 1, 2008

How to force paperwhites indoors for the holidays


Click photo to get started.

October 30, 2008

How to store dahlias for the winter


Click photo to start the slideshow.

September 25, 2008

How to plant bulbs

Plant now and you'll be happy you did when your garden starts blooming while others are still bleak. I've put together a primer on everything you need to know. Have questions? Just ask in Comments, below.

Click photo to get started:

    Click photo to get started.

April 30, 2008

What's blooming

Whew! I'm back. It's been a crazy couple of weeks, but I have good news to report: I didn't miss my spring garden show, after all. I came home to a beautifully blooming garden:

aboveBeyondFence.jpg
Above and Beyond, a proprietary collection from Color Blends, both inside and outside the fence in the front yard.


abovecomp2.jpg
I really love this combination. Couldn't take enough pictures.


above1.jpg

Pansies.jpg
Pansies


rhodoCloseup.jpg
Rhododendron


BuddingAzalea.jpg
Azalea on the brink


Daffodils.jpg
Dafodil Hawera


DandelionWildViolet.jpgThey might be weeds, but they are pretty, aren't they?


Hosta.jpg
Hosta


PearTree.jpg
Pear blossoms


ScotchBroom.jpg

Budding Scotch broom, which has seen better days. It's hitting the compost pile after one final performance.


parsley.jpg

Last year's parsley is taking off.


Viburnum.jpg

Viburnum


Upload your photos to the Virtual Garden Club.

March 6, 2008

Spring blossom watch

crocus.jpg

We all could use a taste of spring right about now. And a reader from Port Washington has come to the rescue, forcing me to launch the 2nd annual spring blossom watch early this year.

He found this beautiful unexpected crocus while shoveling snow, and was kind enough to send me this photo. He also was the first to report a crocus last year, and under the same circumstances. It seems he has his own special microclimate going on.

Be on the lookout for the first signs of spring in your gardens and neighborhoods, and upload your photos at newsday.com/springblooms.

January 14, 2008

Just say NO to heaving

It seems we've been spared the huge snowfall that was predicted for our area overnight. Sure the snow fell, but with 42-degree temperatures, it didn't have much of a chance of accumulating on the ground.

That's great for me, because I hate digging my car out in the morning and my car has absolutely no traction in the snow. It's unfortunate for my kids, especially the 10 year old, who ritualistically and somewhat superstitiously put a spoon under her pillow last night and slept with her pajamas on inside out in the quest for a snow day off from school. But what does this mean for all your dormant perennials and bulbs?

Well, the freeze-thaw cycles aren't good for them either. Just a few days ago I ran some errands wearing only a denim jacket. A week before that, I was barely visible beneath my down coat, scarf and hat. In the meantime, the bulbs and perennials in our gardens are heaving in and out of the soil. As it loosens its grip on them, it sends them on a ride closer and closer to the surface.

As temperatures fluctuate from above freezing to below freezing and back again, the soil freezes and thaws -- contracts and expands -- causing some perennials and bulbs to lift out of the ground. This is called "heaving."

Shallow-rooted perennials, like Chrysanthemums, Coreopsis, Gaillardia and Scabiosa are more susceptible to heaving. For them, this can mean broken roots. And an exposed crown can kill the whole plant. For bulbs, well, you might as well set the table for the squirrels and ring the dinner bell.

So today, get out there and inspect your beds and borders. Check for lifted plant bases or for bulbs that poking up through the ground, and step on them. It's that simple. Just push them back where they belong with a stomp of the foot.

Then, if you haven't already, protect them for the rest of the season with a nice layer of mulch.

October 17, 2007

Bulb profiles -- Day 7: Last call for spring bulbs

tulip.jpg
We're in the midst of prime bulb-planting season. If you haven't already, get to work planting those crocuses, chiondoxas, fritillarias, hyacinths, scillas, tulips and daffodils. Later-blooming lilies and irises need to go in now as well.

But if you're not quite ready, there's no need to panic -- technically they should be fine as long as they're in the ground before it freezes. If you haven't purchased bulbs yet, you still have a bit of time to do so -- and if rush delivery is an option, you might even be able to go mail order.

As this is the last day of our bulb series, I'll leave you with some basics.

Bulb-planting guidelines

1. Planting depth should be 3-5 times the height of the bulb, or 3 times the diameter for all bulbous plants, except hyacinths and tulips. Those do best when planted 12 inches deep.

2. Bulbs need good drainage. Choose your site accordingly.

3. Only purchase bulbs that have been packaged in mesh bags or boxes with ventilation holes. Plastic is taboo!

4. Get them in the ground before frost.

5. Ever wonder why when you follow the bulb-spacing directions on the package, your garden looks sparse? For a lush showing, plant 450 small bulbs or 200 large bulbs in a 50 sq. ft. area; 900 small or 400 large in a 100 sq. ft. area; and 1800 small bulbs or 800 large in a 200 sq. foot area.

6. Never remove, braid or otherwise tamper with leaves of plants that have finished blooming. They need them to photosynthesize and store nutrients for next year.

7. Squirrels and rabbits are repelled by the toxins in daffodil bulbs. Plant them among your tulips to protect the whole bed.

Beautiful bulbs

In addition to the cool Colorblends I told you about earlier this week, here are some of my favorite findings this year. All are from reputable distributors:

muscari.jpgMuscari mixture

April-May blooming

Seen at vanengelen.com

tul.jpgTulipa humilis Eastern Star

April blooming

Seen at vanengelen.com

ant.jpgTulip Antoinette

May blooming

Seen at vanengelen.com

double.jpgTulip Double Dazzle

Late April

Seen at vanengelen.com

Bi-color Blue Grape Hyacinth

April-May blooming

Seen at dutchbulbs.com

Bronze Dutch Iris Blend

May-June blooming

Seen at dutchbulbs.com

daff.jpgButterfly Daffodil Rainbow Of Colors

March-April blooming

Seen at dutchbulbs.com

daff1.jpg Narcissus Safina

April blooming

Seen at whiteflowerfarm.com

cama.jpgCamassia leichtlinii Alba

May-June blooming

Seen at whiteflowerfarm.com

October 16, 2007

Bulb profiles -- Day 6: Fritillaria

crownimperial.jpgI love the nodding, bell-shaped flowers on these spring-bloomers. Even more so when they're orange, which for some reason is always the most difficult color to find. After visiting several local nurseries last fall, to no avail, I found the 'Crown Imperials' in stock at Michigan Bulb Company.

My order of 6 bulbs was pricey, but they proved themselves worthy in the perennial border inside my picket fence.

Here's a replay of an entry written at that time about a dog, an odor and my first fritillaria bulbs:

The first time I purchased “Crown Imperial” Fritillaria bulbs, it was by mail order. When the package arrived, I brought it in the house and set it on the kitchen counter. Some 10 minutes later, when the dog, Shelby, entered the room, I noticed a very strong, foul skunk-like odor. Naturally, I put the dog out.

shelby.jpg
The suspect
When I thought she had purged herself of whatever was causing that malodorous stench to emit from Lord-knows-where, I let her back in. Moments later, the smell returned, and out she went.

And so it continued for the better part of an hour -- in and out -- with accusations flying among family members about who had fed what to the dog.

Then John happened upon the box and determined it was the bulbs, not poor Shelby.

crown.jpg
The culprit

Word to the wise: when you bring your Fritillaria bulbs home, if you’re not going to plant them right away, store them in the garage or outdoors in a protected area. The good news is they not only repel people -- rodents and deer stay away as well.

October 15, 2007

Bulb profiles -- Day 5: Alliums

allium.jpg
I've always been fond of Alliums, though over the years they haven't performed well for me. I'm not quite sure why, but they always seem to make a poor showing. When I planted my first Alliums -- 'Purple Sensation,' several years ago, only 3 of 10 ten bulbs made any kind of a showing. The following year, only 1 popped up, and then nothing.

And so it went. Bad luck with Alliums, which have a reputation for being pretty reliable and easy to grow. Last year, I planted a bunch of 'Purple Sensations," and while they all grew in the spring, they were dwarfed, stunted.

These Alliums belong to same family as onions, and most species multiply by producing offset bulbs. Because of their relation to onions, their bulbs repel most garden pests, but bees and butterflies are attracted to their blooms.

This year, I'm giving them another shot. I just underplanted my Knockout roses with Allium giganteum Globemaster, which promise 10-inch globes of flowers on nearly 3-foot-tall stems from May through July. To be cost effective -- and because of my run of bad luck -- I'm starting with just 10. If they make a nice showing, I'll get more next year.

allium1.jpg Name: Allium Globemaster
Height: 36"
Bloom time: Late spring, early summer.
Purchased from: Colorblends.com
How many: 10
Duds in the batch: 0
Catalog description: "The most spectacular of all the alliums. It produces perfect 10-inch orbs of densely packed, lilac-purple flowers on tall stout stems. Because the flowers are sterile, they last a long time. An outstanding cut flower, fresh or dried."

October 14, 2007

Bulb profiles -- Day 4: Bam! Bold and bright tulips

I've made no secret about my penchant for mixing purple with orange in the garden. And in my wardrobe. And in my home. It's such a happy combination, so bright and bold. So when I spotted this collection on the cover of the new Colorblends catalog, I nearly ripped the pages in my excitement as I searched for the description page.

aab1.jpg

Colorblends is the wholesale-priced source for bulbs I promised to tell you about. When I asked Christian Curless, a horticulturist at the Bridgeport, Conn.-based distributor, for the specific names of the three varieties in this particular "blend," he told me that, well, he couldn't tell me.

"We invest a lot of time and effort in developing, testing and marketing the blends," he said. "They are what sets us apart in the marketplace."

Colorblends grew out of Schipper & Company, a bulb business that got its start in the Netherlands in 1912. After World War II, founder Cornelis Schipper moved to the United States. Since then, the family-run company has been supplying wholesale bulbs to trade professionals, estates, universities, golf courses, corporations and private growers.

The Colorblends approach is to sell pre-blended mixtures of different varieties of tulips. Sure, individual varieties are available, but I love the striking professionally arranged combinations offered. Plus, it takes some of the pressure off: You don't have to worry about coordinating bloom times or heights or shapes.

And the best part is the bulbs come direct from Holland -- without a middleman -- and are sold at wholesale prices to anyone. You needed be affiliated with a business to take advantage of the deals.

aab2.jpg

I found the customer service to be excellent and quite conscientious. When I requested my bulbs be delivered a couple of weeks earlier than the "recommended planting time" for our area, which is when most catalogs ship, a concerned Curless contacted me personally to inquire about my plans. (This is a courtesy I assume is extended to everyone, as he didn't know I was a garden columnist before he contacted me.) When I told him I wanted them early so that I could plant them at the same time shrubs and foundation plantings would be going in, we agreed on a compromise. And the bulbs -- tulips, daffodils and crocuses -- arrived right on schedule, nicely packed in a milk crate.

In all, I ordered 710 bulbs, and I found them to be of impeccable quality. Of those, less than a handful needed to be discarded. All too often, a disappointing percentage of bulbs arrive rotted, moldy or broken. I'm very impressed with the quality.

And the prices -- I picked up 10 Allium Globemaster bulbs, which I've seen retail for as much as $19.99 apiece, for just $5 each.

As far as I'm concerned, Colorblends can keep it's proprietary combinations a secret. I don't need to know the botanical or common names of my tulips. I'd just like my garden to look like I hired a designer.

I'll post the end results -- along with photos -- in the spring.

aab3.jpgName: Above and Beyond, a Colorblends tulip collection

Height: 12" - 16"

Bloom time: Mid-late spring

Purchased from: Colorblends.com

How many: 200

Duds in the batch: 1

Catalog description: "A festive blend of three tulips that bloom at slightly different heights. Each is beautiful on its own; together they put on a rousing show that will have you, and passersby, asking for an encore."

October 13, 2007

Bulb profiles -- Day 3: Naturalizing Crocuses

Naturalizing is a term used to describe an informal planting style that is planned to look, well, unplanned.

gloryofthesnow.jpg

The most common means of achieving this look is simply to select an area, toss dozens or hundreds of bulbs into the air and then plant them where they fall. It's easiest to do this if you first dig up the entire area to the recommended planting depth.

If naturalizing on an existing lawn, you can either poke individual holes into the soil with a bulb planting tool or you can lift up the sod, toss the bulbs and replace the sod. The latter method, which is is less time consuming and less back-breaking, is achieved by cutting the sod with a spade and then gently lifting it up, folding or rolling it out of the way. Be sure to cut deeply enough so you lift the root system with the grass. After loosening the soil underneath with a tiller or fork, plant the bulbs at their recommended depths and then fold the sod back into place. Walk over it a few times to tamp it down a bit.

bluesquill.jpg

Early spring-blooming bulbs, corms, tubers and rhyzomes (for simplicity, let's just call them all 'bulbs') are best for naturalizing in lawns because they make their appearances before the grass-growing season begins. Often the first signs of life of a new growing season, they fade around the time you're ready to mow for the first time. You do have to wait until the foliage has turned brown and died down before mowing but that shouldn't interfere much with your lawn-care schedule as long as you stick to early bloomers.

Later-blooming plants such as most daffodils and tulips -- while perfectly suited for naturalizing -- shouldn't be planted in lawns because the grass will get really long and mangy looking before their foliage turns brown, usually 6 weeks after blooming. Cutting down leaves before they dry up will result in a sorry showing the following spring, as it cuts short the time required for the bulb to soak up and store nutrients for the next growing season. It's best to plant these in beds where daylilies and other later-blooming plants will hide their foliage.

winteraconite.jpg

Early bloomers like crocuses are ideal for naturalizing in lawns because they meet two important criteria: They're low-growing, so if you have to wait a bit for them to die down, they won't look funny in the grass, and they multiply, resulting in a better display each year. Just be sure not to fertilize the lawn with a high nitrogen fertilizer, which will cut down on future blossoms.

snowdrops.jpg


Naturalizing needn't be relegated only to lawn areas. Spots under deciduous trees are ideal because they're quite sunny when the trees are bare.

My pick this year:
crocreation.jpgName: A pre-mixed batch of crocuses called "Crocreation"
Height: 5"
Bloom time: Very early spring
Purchased from: Colorblends.com
How many: 300
Duds in the batch: 0
Catalog description: "This blend of bright purple and golden yellow is very floriferous, each corm producing several large flowers. Plant them under trees or shrubs, or in the lawn."

October 12, 2007

Bulb profiles -- Day 2: Daffodils

daff.jpg

Daffodils are among the most reliable bloomers in the spring bulb garden. They're protected from squirels, deer and other animals because they contain a bitter-tasting chemical that repels them. And unlike most tulips, daffodils are perennial, returning for many, many years of color.
mix.jpg

My pick this year:

Name: Triandrus Daffodil, (Angel's Tears) 'Hawera'
Height: 8"
Bloom time: Mid-spring
Purchased from: Colorblends.com
How many: 100
Duds in the batch: 0

Catalog description: "A tiny lemon-yellow daffodil that makes up for its size by producing 6-8 flowers on each stem. Exceptionally fine for perennial beds or a rock garden. Planted in a sunny spot it will last for years."

I mixed them in with the bakeri tulips I told you about yesterday (Tulipa bakeri "Lilac Wonder") for what I'm expecting to be a beautiful front-of-the-border display.

Have questions? Here's a great FAQ from the American Daffodil Society.

October 11, 2007

Bulb profiles -- Day One: Perennial tulips

Most tulips are show-stoppers the first year, and then dwindle quickly until nothing comes up except some foliage. You might wonder what went wrong with them. The truth is -- nothing.

bakeri.jpg

In our climate, tulips aren't reliable returnees to the garden. In fact, botanical gardens and commercial properties typically plant thousands -- sometimes hundreds of thousands -- of tulips each fall and then yank them out when their blooms have faded. The bulbs are discarded and new ones purchased the following year. Such a shame, considering the cost of bulbs and the work involved installing them each year.

There is a such thing as a perennial tulip, but you must look for varieties specifically labeled as such. Perennial tulips usually return nicely for several years, though still, they're not as reliable as say, black-eyed Susans.

This one is my current favorite, pictured above.

Name: Tulipa bakeri "Lilac Wonder"
Height: 6"
Bloom time: Mid-spring
Purchased from: Colorblends.com
How many: 100
Duds in the batch: 1
Catalog description: "Showy lilac-pink flowers with deep yellow centers bob in the slightest breeze."

Tomorrow, I'll tell you what I paired them with for an eye-catching display.

October 10, 2007

It's bulb-planting time!

To me, spring-flowering bulbs are no-brainers. They're easy to plant, they don't require much in the way of care, and their color and vibrancy is not only welcome at the end of a long, gray winter -- it's downright necessary to end my suspected case of seasonal affective disorder.

Check out this video on How to Plant 100 Tulip Bulbs in 30 Minutes. That's really all there is to it. Then scroll down past the viewer for more details.


If you're installing a mass planting in a large area, just dig up the whole site to about 6 to 8 inches deep. It's best to lay out a tarp or a few large green trash bags nearby for holding the soil while you plant. This way, your lawn won't get wrecked.

This year, I sprayed my bulbs with Squirrel Stopper from Messina Wildlife. I love how the product is released from the pressurized sprayer in an environmentally friendly way. Plus, it smells nice. A friend likened it to Vicks VapoRub. Squirrels hate it, apparently.

If you have these:You'll need this:
messina.jpg

This is a very important step, I've learned from experience. Last year, my bulbs were snacked on by those beasts and made a lame appearance at show time. Some gardeners put blood meal in the planting holes. The smell of "death" is supposed to repel squirrels. Others install chicken wire over the bulbs to create a physical barrier.

Once the bed is dug up, space bulbs according to the directions on the package. Pointy side up is recommended but really, the plant knows which way is up, so don't make yourself crazy about it.

Replace the top soil and tamp down gently. Water thoroughly after planting if the soil is dry and wait for spring.

If you're spot planting or installing bulbs in small areas, you need to dig down to the depth recommended for each specific bulb using a trowel or any of the various bulb planting devices available commercially. I'm partial to the dibble. You just poke it in the ground to the depth line marked on the spike, twist it around a bit to widen the hole and you’re done. You can read more about planting techniques and tools and see photos here.

With the basics out of the way, tomorrow I'll kick off a week-long series of bulb profiles. Because Garden Detective appears in Newsday every Thursday, we're going to follow a "Garden Detective Week." That is, the series will run Thursday through Wednesday.

Come back to find out what I'm planting this year, learn about unusual new varieties and old standbys and get an 'in' with my wholesale-priced supplier.

February 7, 2007

CA-CHING!!!

Just quickly want to let you know about a Web site that posts current sales and ever-elusive, never-available-when-you-need-'em discount codes for seeds, plants and garden supplies. For a listing of online deals, from nurseries and garden product catalogs and Web sites, visit GardenBargainsOnline.com.

November 6, 2006

Forcing bulbs

paperwhite.jpg
Narcissus "tazetta"
photo courtesy of Cornell Cooperative Extension

I've heard from several readers who seem intimidated by prospect of forcing bulbs -- most commonly Paperwhites -- indoors over the winter. I've never done it personally, but in the interest of experimentation, I'm going to give it a whirl this year.

It seems a simple, straight-forward process, and one with a relatively high success rate.

Paperwhites are in the Narcissus family -- along with Daffodils and Jonquils -- and typically, as their name implies, are white. You can, however, find some yellow varieties as well, such as Bethlehem, Israel, Nazareth and Grand Soleil d'Or, but they're still called Paperwhites. The spring-blooming flowers can be forced (tricked, really) into blossoming over the winter. That sounds like a nice treat when your garden is hiding under a blanket of snow.

I've seen pre-packaged Paperwhite forcing kits retail for $9.99 all the way up to $49. They make nice gifts, to be sure. But you can purchase the bulbs for fifty cents apiece (less if you buy in bulk,) gather up some pebbles and grow them in a pot you have at home. It's up to you.

Here's how it's done:

1. Find a shallow (3 - 4 inches deep) bowl or pot without drainage holes.

2. Place an inch or two of small stones, pebbles or gravel at the bottom of your pot.

3. Set a group of bulbs onto the pebbles, pressing gently to stabilize. Don't worry about overcrowding them -- they look nice en masse.

4. Add another handful or so of pebbles around the bulbs just to hold them in place, not cover them.

5. Add just enough water to reach the base of the bulbs. Any more, and they'll rot. Your only responsibility will be to keep the water at this level.

6. Place in a cool, dark place, like a closet, for a week or two, or until roots begin to sprout.

7. Relocate to a sunny windowsill, preferably one with a southern or western exposure, until bloom time.

8. When you begin to see flowers, some say it's best to move the plant out of direct sunlight in order to extend bloom time.

You might consider repeating the process, staggering start times, to ensure a succession of blooms all winter.

October 15, 2006

And now, the bulbs

I just put in some spring bulbs behind the new perennials. This way, when the flowers have faded, the foliage will be hidden behind the next season's entries.

The landscaper will be bringing a purple plum tree for the bare corner of the front yard, and I'll surround it with smaller Hosta and orange daylilies.


Having spent the weekend shopping and hauling and planting, I'd be mortified if anyone dropped in on me today. The house looks like a tornado hit it.

Here's what went in:



iris.JPG
Dutch Iris Eye of the Tiger

ranun.JPG
Ranunculus, mixed

crocus.JPG
Snow Crocus

ripvan.JPG
Double Daffodil Rip Van Winkle

allium.jpg
Cornell Cooperative Extension photo
Allium “Purple Sensation

fritillaria.jpg
Cornell Cooperative Extension photo
Orange “Crown Imperial” Fritillaria (very hard to find, by the way; nearly everyone is sold out. Even photos were scarce -- had to use this yellow one.) Click here for a warning about Fritillaria bulbs

chameliantulip.JPG
Antoinette Chameleon tulips, whose flowers start out cream-colored, then pink edges appear before they evolve into a solid salmon-orange.

Orange Candleflower


Branching orange tulips


October 14, 2006

The case of the stinky specimen

shelby.jpg
The suspect


The first time I purchased “Crown Imperial” Fritillaria bulbs, it was by mail order. When the package arrived, I brought it in the house and set it on the kitchen counter. Some 10 minutes later, when the dog, Shelby, entered the room, I noticed a very strong, foul skunk-like odor. Naturally, I put the dog out.

When I thought she had purged herself of whatever was causing that malodorous stench to emit from Lord-knows-where, I let her back in. Moments later, the smell returned, and out she went.

And so it continued for the better part of an hour -- in and out -- with accusations flying among family members about who had fed what to the dog.

Then John happened upon the box and determined it was the bulbs, not poor Shelby.

crown.jpg
The culprit

Word to the wise: when you bring your Fritillaria bulbs home, if you’re not going to plant them right away, store them in the garage or outdoors in a protected area.

October 8, 2006

Spring Bulbs 101

What do you get when you cross a tulip bulb and a light bulb?
A power plant.

Lots of folks refer to any underground structure that isn’t a fibrous or conical root system as a “bulb.” But in actuality, bulbs are very specific things, and shouldn’t be confused with rhizomes, corms or tubers. (We’ll talk about them another time.)

Amaryllis, daffodils, hyacinths, lilies, tulips, snowdrops, and ornamental onions all are true bulbs.

When shopping for bulbs, avoid any that appear moldy, are mushy or seem otherwise rotted. Loose skins aren’t a problem.

Spring-flowering bulbs need to spend a certain amount of time under chilly ground (below 60 degrees) in order to bloom. On Long Island, in Zone 7, the ideal planting time is around the beginning of November, but you can continue to plant bulbs until the ground freezes.

Bulbs serve as plants’ food storage system, providing nourishment throughout the dormant seasons(s) to ensure future showings. They come in varied sizes and have varied depth requirements, usually 2 inches to 6 or 8 inches deep. If you’ve purchased your bulbs, check the packaging for planting instructions; If you’ve inherited them or if for some other reason they didn’t come with directions, you really can’t go wrong planting any bulb at about 4 inches. Some will cry heresy, but it works. I’ve done it.

If you’re planning an entire bulb bed, dig up 4 inches of soil across the board, place your bulbs where you want them, and cover the whole thing up. If you’re adding bulbs to an existing bed, you should dig each hole individually to an appropriate depth and plant them one by one. Drop the bulb in the hole, pointy side up, and cover with soil. An ordinary trowel can be used for this task, but several different types of bulb planters are available to simplify the process.

Fiskars makes a bulb transplanter that’s marked with depth graduations and has a spring-loaded handle to release packed soil.

The Hound Dog Bulb Hound goes a bit easier on your back, as it has a long handle to reduce stooping.

For a higher-tech approach, there are bulb augers, like this one from Protech Tool Supply, that attach to power drills. Might be a good idea if you’re planting hundreds of bulbs at once.

I’m partial to a dibble, like the one made by Rumford Gardener (View image). You just poke it in the ground to the depth line marked on the spike, twist it around a bit to widen the hole and you’re done.

To discourage squirrels, rabbits, moles and other bulb-hoarding critters from making a winter meal of your spring garden, add a handful of crushed oyster shells to the hole when planting bulbs. The pests find the texture of the shells irritating and will keep away, plus you get the added bonus of nutrients leeching from the shells and nourishing your bulbs.

There are three basic planting techniques for bulbs:

Layering means planting one bulb directly on top of another. For instance, a tulip or daffodil bulb can be planted at 6 inches, partially covered with soil, and an earlier flowering bulb like a crocus, can be added right on top of it. The crocus will surface and bloom first, and the tulip or daffodil will follow, providing a longer season of color from the exact same spot.

Naturalizing is by far the most fun planting method, but it’s not for everyone. It involves putting your bulbs in a bag (or in a closed fist,) tossing them in the air and planting them where they land. It’s more pleasurable if you close your eyes and spin around first, but of course this isn’t mandatory.

The third method, to which I’m partial, involves planting bulbs in order of their appearances – early arrivals in the rear, late bloomers up front. This way, spent blooms and foliage are hidden behind the newer entries. As long as leaves are green, they’re busy producing food for next year’s flowers. For this reason, it’s important to leave them in place until they’ve completely yellowed and withered.

I know someone who painstakingly rolls down each tulip stem and secures it with a twist tie to avoid an unsightly mess in his garden. Why bother, when you can leave it be and hide it behind a later-arriving perennial?

Regardless of the method, remember to water after planting, and then regularly when buds appear in the spring.

Do you have any favorite bulbs or bulb-planting shortcuts? Let me know.

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