November already?! What happened? Oh well. With sunny days sitting in the garden harder to come by, I keep myself occupied and happy with planting and potting bulbs for midwinter and spring enjoyment. And so, here’s my yearly bulb rant.
Bulbs can be annuals. With a relatively small urban space in which to plant, I’m loath to dedicate large swaths of it to bulb plantings that take a long time to fade into the background after a spring bloom period. I’m already regretting the space I gave up to alliums in one of my few mostly-sun beds and I can’t tolerate large daffodil hybrids anymore, just the miniatures. (Though I love seeing big daffodil plantings in more expansive gardens.) Hybrid tulips are always annuals in my book and work great in that role, whether in designated temporary plantings or in big pots where they are replaced with summer annuals. Smaller spring bulbs (like the species tulips at top) are delightful and their foliage is much more unobtrusive. Exception are greigii tulips, which aren’t exactly small, but their foliage is often just as interesting as their flowers and it hangs around for a while. With all the shade I have, I find I have to plan on judicious bulb plantings every year, including those that would perennialize in better conditions.
On tools. While all of the tools specifically intended for bulb planting that I’ve tried have not worked at all–and in some cases made bulb planting take twice as long–rather than just say bulb tools suck, as I usually do, I do have some tools I like. The ergonomic pointed trowels from Radius (and likely many other good pointed trowels) plunge into the ground to the right depth and provide plenty of room to throw in some species tulips, erythronium, galanthus, muscari and other small types. Another great tool for this is the Cobrahead weeder, which isn’t meant for bulbs at all. Otherwise, for a bunch of big bulbs, I just use a strong shovel, dig a big hole, and toss them in. In my case, I often also have to employ sharp pruners or even a hori-hori knife to get through roots, but I hope others don’t have to go to those lengths. The one time I used an augur, I was afraid the drill would blow up.
On additives. Likewise, I don’t bother with any of the granular mixes or liquid elixirs that are supposed to help bulbs. The ones that are annual don’t need it and the others should be fine with the yearly top dressing all the beds get.
Mechanical solutions like pinned down netting over plantings seem to work best against creatures. Sprayed or sprinkled solutions have to be reapplied too often. No deer issues in my neighborhood, but I have heard that combos of fencing and plantings that make it unclear what’s beyond the fence work well (again, mechanical).
Bulb forcing is lots of fun. I do hundreds – maybe two-thirds hyacinths and the rest tulips. It is amazing to have the sights and scents of these inside during February and March. Those who aren’t ready for true forcing should at least try some of the more unusual (and mildly scented) tazetta varieties. When placed amid houseplants, these up the tropical ante many of us really need in January and February.