Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Designing WIth Bulbs

KCB is back. The following post will be used as the basis for our upcoming Bulb Class on 10/06 at all Skillin's locations at 10 AM (Falmouth is sold out at 10 AM but we do have an encore Bulb Class in Falmouth at 2 PM. Openings remain for Brunswick and Cumberland at 10 AM) Contact us at to sign up! Just specify store location!

There is a new phrase in town

Dig a hole

                        Drop the bulb          



Sounds easy, well… is almost that easy.  It has been found (by surveys of major bulb vendors and experts) that most failures with bulbs can be traced back to problems at the time of planting. Give yourself time to do proper planting, and don't ignore the details.

First, what is a bulb?  A bulb is the self-contained life source for the plant. A ‘true ‘bulb is the more rounded fleshier store house. Tulips, allium & snow drops are in this category. However, not all ‘bulbs’ are bulbs. 

Corms are usually smaller and flatter in shape. Crocus & Gladiola are common corms.

Tubers are more varied in shape and size with most being cylindrical. Many come in clusters. Begonias & dahlias are the most common. 

Now on to the fun aka the ‘DO’S & DON’TS OF ‘DIG, DROP, DONE’!

Before you DIG you must buy!

DO be adventurous. While you may not want orange, reds or yellows in your summer garden these bright primary colors are perfect tonics after the dull winter.

DO be as fussy picking your bulbs as you would a melon. Avoid bulbs that feel spongy or with visible mold.

DO shop early to get the best variety.

On a budget?  DO opt to select more of 1 or 2 -3 varieties in 2 or more colors.  This will create more impact than a few crocus followed by 3 or 4 tulips and/or hyacinth.

DON’T plant too soon.  Some look to the calendar to plant saying end of September to Mid-October is the time. Others wait until the evening temperatures average 40- 45 degrees, then there is the ‘rule’ that says once there is a ‘soft’ frost its ok. With the warming climates Mid-October until the ground is too cold or frozen to work works best for my gardens.

DO keep in a cool dry place until you are ready to DIG.

DIG. A variety of tools are available to make this task a little easier.

DO choose a place wisely.  Bulbs will rot in wet or poorly draining soil.  Full sun is required for most bulbs however what may be a shady spot in the height of summer may be the perfect spot early in the season. Visualize where you will get more ‘bang for your buck’.  Plant near entrance doorways, along the most used paths or close to your house.

DON’T plant too deep or too shallow. A good rule of thumb is a depth 3 x the largest diameter.  A bulb 1 inch across will be planted 3 inches deep; 2 inches would go 6 inches.  Mix a fertilizer such as BulbTone’ in with the soil. (Tulips should probably be planted 4 times as deep as they are wide--the deeper the better for tulips!)

DO prepare for pesky rodents such as chipmunks and use a product that will repel the perpetrators of bulb planting peril. It’s worthwhile to drench bulbs in taste repellent products, sprinkle repellents on the growing plants in spring, and surround or cover the bulbs with chicken wire. Or

DO use bulbs that animals don’t like: Alliums, Camassia, Fritillaria and Narcissus


DO mass plantings. DROP a handful in then place pointed side up and leave a space about 2x the size of the bulbs between each neighbor.

DON’T sweat the small stuff, If a bulb should fall on its side while you are in the throes of planting, let it go. It will find its way.

DO plant with a companion plant.  Remember foliage should remain until all withered. Many nurseries have fantastic sales at the end of the season. Day Lilies make perfect companions as do many Sedums.

Design tips for spring bulbs

Combine flower bulbs with perennial for a succession of bloom. In addition, there's a big bonus: the emerging perennial foliage hides bulb foliage as it yellows and dies off.

Try a double-decker effect. You can plant small bulbs in a layer right on top of large bulbs. If you plant bulbs that flower in the same period you can create an interesting double-decker effect (picture bright pink tulips blooming above cobalt blue Grape Hyacinths). Or you can stagger the bloom time by planting mid- and late-season bloomers together, creating a spring display that blooms in succession, for a whole season of color!

Keep in mind the bulb color, time of bloom and height of the plants and consider which bulbs will mix best with nearby perennials and spring-flowering shrubs. Your combinations can be color echoes, such as the 'Ballade' tulip with bleeding heart, shown right, or color contrasts such as yellow daffodils with blue muscari.

Concentrate your display where it will be most effective in spring. Lots of bulbs in one or two areas of the garden close to the house will give you more bang for your buck than the same number spread all over the garden.

Avoid planting bulbs in rigid toy soldier-like rows. Generous "bouquets" are far more dramatic than a smattering here and there. Combine different bulbs by planting low-growing grape hyacinths and scillas in front taller tulips and daffodils.

Plant drifts of color in triangular patterns with the point of the triangle showing towards the front.

Try planting in layers. Place large later spring bulbs, such as tulips, daffodils or ornamental onions at the bottom of the planting hole, cover them with a layer of soil, then, on top, plant smaller early flowering bulbs such as scilla that require shallower planting.

Expand the bulb menu.  Look for a variety of alliums. Allium Bulgaricum, allium-moly-in-garden, or Allium-vineale-Hair. Fritillaria, Red-Hot Poker.




KCB is a professional gardener and friend who does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area. KCB is also an accredited Master Gardener by the Cooperative Extension Service and we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family. KCB can also be found at the awesome Finishing Touches website.
KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
October 3, 2012

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