Summer ended with a boom! up here in the mountains. A thunderstorm of biblical proportions rattled the rafters and shook the cedars right down to their roots. Pine needles peppered the pavement and covered my deck. Lightning in the night revealed a forest swaying like an ocean. I began to think an ark would be welcome as I cowered under my covers, waiting for the downpour to subside.
The next morning was a mess – leaves, needles, branches everywhere. As I surveyed the chaos, I thought about spring. This was a perfect storm because it came just about the requisite time before the first frost- about six weeks – for planting spring bulbs. It isn’t very often that Mother Nature prepares the ground for us so obligingly. Usually, by the time autumn rolls around, the ground is as hard as flint from the long, hot summer. But now it is spongy and wet, perfect for digging and planting.
As the leaves turn to gold, and before the holidays are upon us, it is time to think about what kind of spring colors you would like to see. After the snows and frosts of winter melt, the first flowers to bloom are usually the daffodils, irises, narcissus, and hyacinth, to name a few. There are a number of simple steps to planting bulbs for spring. With a little effort you can create a breathless riot of color to usher in nature’s rebirth.
First, make sure you pick plump, robust bulbs. Don’t buy them if they are withered or wizened. Unless you know that your soil lacks phosphorus, you don’t need to put bone meal in with the bulbs. Amending the soil with compost is a good idea for any planting. It will ensure the soil is rich in nutrients for the rooting bulbs.
Plant the bulbs in an area that gets sun exposure. The shoots will push up through the cold ground or snow in response to the sunlight. Be sure to plant them with the pointy side up and the root side down. If you are plagued by gophers or squirrels, plant the bulbs in a cage made from hardware cloth. This will keep them from being dug up and appearing mysteriously in someone else’s yard.
Here is a list of bulbs and how deep to plant them. Tulips, daffodils/narcissus, hyacinth should be planted about six inches deep. Allium, anemone, chionodoxa, Dutch iris, ixia need to be planted about four inches deep. Crocus, freesia, and ranunculus only need to be two inches deep in the soil. You don’t need a ruler. A simple rule of thumb is to plant them two times deeper than their height.
Plant about four to ten bulbs in one hole. This will result in bunches of brightly-colored flowers making a profuse statement in the garden. Single flowers aren’t very pleasing and look quite lonely. If you want a natural look, throw the bulbs, willy-nilly, around the area to be planted. Then dig a hole where the bulbs fell. Instead of neat rows of flowers, they will present a wilder, more natural-looking profusion of color when spring arrives.
After covering up the bulbs with soil, be sure to water them to encourage rooting before the first frost. A four-inch layer of mulch will also help keep the bulbs from freezing during the cold nights of winter. Now you can go off and enjoy the holidays and forget about the garden until the first sign of green shoots after the spring thaw.
Just when you think you can’t stand another day of cold, dreary winter you will look out in the garden and see a profusion of jolly spring colors: yellow daffodils, white narcissus, purple hyacinth, and multi-colored anemone will pop up like magic out of the cold ground and light up the landscape like an Easter basket. Your garden will look like there’s a party going on and all because you thought ahead and planted in the fall.
Francie McGowan is a Bay Area Transplant (BAT) who is learning how different it is to garden at higher elevations.