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COLUMN: It’s time for bulbs

Rosanne LoParco
Sentinel columnist
Posted 9/18/22

Fall gardening tasks are ready to start, but there’s more to the fall than raking leaves.

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COLUMN: It’s time for bulbs


Fall gardening tasks are ready to start, but there’s more to the fall than raking leaves. It’s time to plan and plant bulbs.

The word “bulb” is used to describe certain plants; however, technically the plant grows from an underground organ that is the bulb.

Bulbs come in assorted forms, such as tubers or corms. They can be hardy and come back every year or can be tender annuals such as dahlias which needs to be dug up, dried and stored indoors. If left in the ground over the fall and winter the dahlia tubers will rot.

Now is the time to do your homework to find the best choices to fit your garden. You can plant bulbs now until late November or until the ground freezes.

Good bulb, bad bulb

You can buy bulbs in local garden centers. To choose the best, select the biggest, heaviest, and one that is unblemished. It’s OK to have the papery tunic missing and a few small blemishes that wipe off easily with your finger.

A bad bulb is one that is dry, lightweight, or soft. Bad bulbs can also have a slight odor. Don’t limit yourself to only bulbs in the garden center. There are many mail-order bulb sources; buying bulbs this way allows you more choices.

Planting tips

Generally, plant bulbs three to four times the height of the bulb. Use the right tool. A soil knife is good for just a few bulbs or planting in tight spaces. Consider a shovel for mass plantings.

Plant the bulb so the pointed end is up. Some bulbs may be difficult to tell which side is up. Not to worry; bulbs are amazing things in that they will figure out how to right themselves!

Most bulbs prefer a sunny location and do best in loose, well-drained soil. Soggy soil is death to bulbs. Till organic matter into the bed to loosen clay soil and improve the water-holding ability of sandy soil. Fertilize as you plant. Bone meal is not a great bulb fertilizer; it can attract pests. Feed bulbs compost instead by working it into the soil.

Thoroughly water the bed after planting and during prolonged dry spells before winter sets in. Mulch lightly to help hold in moisture.

Pest control

Many rodents and other animals like bulbs. Consider planting them deeper than the normal planting depth. Most animals will burrow within the top 6 to 8 inches of soil. So, if you go deeper, they may miss the bulbs completely.

Also, making a wire cage and planting bulbs inside the cage can help. You can actually buy bulb cages if you don’t want to make one. Barriers on the top of the soil can also protect them. You can use burlap or chicken wire over a freshly planted bed and then remove the barrier in the spring once you see the plant growth. There are also repellents which you can use to coat the bulbs to make them less tasty.

If you have a rodent or deer problems, consider planting daffodils, grape hyacinth, hyacinth, or windflowers (Anemones).

Avoid planting bulbs in straight lines. Use creative shapes instead; i.e., a circle of tulips surrounded by a square of daffodils. Tulips can be finicky; try species tulips instead. They are shorter and look a little different than the traditional tulip; however, they perennialize and spread over time.

Different bulbs such as alliums, Spanish bluebells, or rock garden iris are also nice to try. A little work now will result in a great-looking garden next spring. Have fun with bulbs!



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