It’s not too early to catch spring fever, even though the calendar says it’s fall. Prime time for planting spring-flowering bulbs is six weeks before the first hard frost in your area, or when your average nighttime temperatures are about 40 to 50 degrees. Some bulbs, like crocus and paperwhite narcissus, need 12 to 14 weeks of cold for spring blooms, while others need up to 18 weeks.
Planting Spring Bulbs
For a spring garden that explodes with sunny yellows, rich reds, and other bright colors, choose a spot that gets lots of sun, and dig a bed about 18 inches deep. (If you’re digging individual holes, a bulb planter makes the job easier, and a long-handled model will help you avoid kneeling.)
Amend the soil with compost so it drains easily, and clear away rocks, weeds and sticks.
Some gardeners feed their bulbs with bone meal, which provides phosphorus for strong growth. It should be mixed into the soil before you add the bulbs, so their roots can easily reach it. Then supplement with a complete bulb fertilizer to be sure your plants get all the nutrients they need.
Put the bulbs in the bed or holes with pointed ends up. As a rule of thumb, plant big bulbs like daffodils and hyacinths 6 to 9 inches deep, and small ones, like snowdrops and grape hyacinths, 3 to 5 inches deep. Cover them with soil, water thoroughly, and mulch.
Tips for Designing With Spring Bulbs
- Plant early, mid-, and late-season varieties of your favorites, so you’ll have a continuous display of flowers.
- Keep tall bulbs at the back of beds and shorter bulbs in front. If you’re planting near dormant perennials, think about how high they’ll grow.
- For maximum impact, plant in clusters of at least five to seven bulbs. Stick to one color, or, in bigger groupings, add several shades of the same color.
- Go bold by mixing bright colors like purple and orange, or yellow with red and orange.
- For a calming effect, use pastels. Use white to separate colors or tone down bright ones.
- Grow “lasagna” layers by planting small bulbs on top of bigger ones that are 6 to 9 inches deep. Bonus: You only dig once, but you get multiple blooms.
- For a natural look, plant in drifts. Scatter the bulbs at random and plant wherever they land. Some, like crocus, will multiply and spread over the years.
After-Care For Spring Bulbs
It’s tempting to tidy up the garden after the spring blooms fade, but resist that urge. The leaves on the bulbs have work to do. They’ll soak up sunshine to make next year’s flowers. If you mow or cut the foliage too soon, you’ll forfeit the show.
Let the leaves die back naturally instead. Don’t braid, bundle, or tie them together, which reduces the surface area that the sun can reach.
It’s better to hide unsightly foliage with other spring plants, such as pansies, violas, English daises or daylilies, which often leaf out just as daffodils are fading. Fast-growing annuals like petunias and nasturtiums are also good choices.