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Plan ahead for more and better spring bulbs next year

The Iowa Gardener: Come October, it can be hard to know where to place tulips, daffodils and crocuses

(Elena Elisseeva/Fotolia)

Spring bulbs, like daffodils, are in their glory right now here in Iowa.
(Elena Elisseeva/Fotolia) Spring bulbs, like daffodils, are in their glory right now here in Iowa.

Spring bulbs are in their glory right now here in Iowa. Crocuses are finishing up, daffodils are blooming in force, and tulips are starting to form flower heads.

So it’s the ideal time to plan what bulbs you are going to plant in the fall to replenish or expand your bulb display. After all, come June, the foliage will shrivel and fade away. When October comes and it’s time to actually plant more bulbs, it’s easy to be clueless on where to plant spring-blooming bulbs. If you go out there and just start digging, you may even end up slicing through existing bulbs in your yard.

Avoid this by taking a few minutes now to plot out your bulb planting next fall. Where do you want more color from bulbs? What types of bulbs? What colors? Then record it and put it somewhere you’ll take note of come fall. Some ideas to get you started:

l Draw a rough map. Tuck it somewhere where you’ll find it in the fall, like with any leftover bulb fertilizer or in your garden journal.

l Take some photos with notations about what types of bulbs to plant.

l Take notes on your computer or phone. Either write directions, or, if you have a smartphone, draw a diagram with your finger or stylus.

l Put markers directly in the ground where you want to plant.

l Put notes into October in your appointment book or calendar, whether it’s paper or electronic.

When making your notes, keep in mind that bulbs like full sun (6 to 8 hours of full, undappled shade every day), loose rich soil, and excellent drainage.

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A slope or raised bed for bulbs is ideal. Any bulbs that have wet feet all winter will rot, just the way an onion in your pantry or fridge will over time.

Also take note of how many bulbs you want to plant. Spring bulbs usually look best when grouped in naturalistic clumps of 10 to 20. Larger bulbs like tulips should be planted 4 to 5 inches apart. Smaller bulbs like crocuses can be planted just 3 or so inches apart.

And, of course, keep in mind a budget. I count on spending roughly 75 cents to a dollar each per larger bulb, like tulips and daffodils, and 40 to 50 cents or so per smaller bulb, like crocuses or grape hyacinths.

Note that not all bulbs return reliably year after year. Daffodils, crocuses, scilla, grape hyacinths, and many others do return and even multiply in ideal conditions.

But tulips and Dutch hyacinths look best their first year, less good their second, and tend to peter out almost completely in their third. Plan to replace any third-year tulips and hyacinths.

l Veronica Lorson Fowler is co-publisher of The Iowa Gardener website at theiowagardener.com.

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