That’s the title of a talk I gave recently for a suburban/rural gardening club, though maybe it didn’t apply. They all seemed like longtime spade-wielding warriors. Very few of them ever looked online for gardening advice; they just did things the way they’d always done it and seemed OK with that. It was refreshing. What a contrast to my online gardening group, most of whom seem to worry about everything. But there are a few bulb rules I follow, some of which go against bulb wisdom found both online and in newspaper columns and some of which were new to the club members. They work for me, so I’ll share them here.

(But first: why am I even talking about bulbs? Aren’t all my bulbs in? They are not, because my mail order bulbs are just arriving this week, a full month after I usually get them. The companies (top-rated ones, BTW) blame shipping delays thanks to COVID. But I also wonder if zone changes were a factor and, if so, boo! I don’t care if I am now a 6b; I still want to plant bulbs in balmy October weather.)

To continue:

• Traditional bulb tools are dumb, as you know if you’ve ever spent minutes pounding plugs of soil out of them. I use a sharp spade to get the small bulbs in (species tulips, tiny daffs, galanthus, chionodoxa, erythronium, eranthis, species tulips shown in photos above). For big groups of hybrids, I use a large shovel, dig a big hole or trench and throw the bulbs in. If I think of it, I straighten them out a bit before covering with soil. Drill and auger? Tried it; still a lot of bending for lots of little holes and I hated it—the drill was still not as good as a sharp spade when it came to dealing with root-filled beds. I have even found myself using the Cobrahead to get through this tough terrain.

• Deer, chipmunk, squirrel, and vole problems should not rule out bulbs. Wire or plastic mesh can be pinned on the ground over the plantings immediately after planting. That keeps out the small guys. With deer, we know they don’t like quite a number of species (daffodils, allium, etc.); as for the rest, I am told that they are less likely to bother species tulips and that sprays work. I think pots close to the house (easy to keep sprayed) might be an option. I am also told that interplanting of daffodils among tulips can fool them. (Deer are not yet roaming the streets of downtown Buffalo.)

• Try tulips in pots. I do about 14 big pots every year, planting the bulbs at a normal depth (this is not forcing) and storing the pots in the unheated garage. They come out sometime in March and tend to bloom at the normal times for their types. These pots can be moved around or even brought inside. I wrote a pretty detailed description of this for Fine Gardening.

• Plant a lot or don’t bother. Accept that hybrid tulips are (close to) annuals and enjoy them for their beauty, even if it is relatively short-lived.

There are many beautiful, enjoyable things in life that last way shorter than hybrid tulips.


This is a slightly revised and updated repeat of a 2019 post.