When I woke up on Sunday my plants were sparkly from frost, which means it’s bulb planting time. Actually, I would have been happy to plant bulbs two weeks ago, but ordering bulbs online means that you plant according the mail order shipping schedules, and bulbs arrive in Seattle in early November.
For daffodils and crocuses, which look best planted in large numbers, my go-to company is Van Engelen. At Van Engelen, I got 100 Narcissus jonquilla simplex bulbs (cute fragrant daffodils) for about $24. For smaller quantities of more special bulbs, I’m a big fan of Old House Gardens, which specializes in antique and heirloom bulbs. I have nothing against newer varieties of bulbs, but the Old House Gardens catalog has such exuberant descriptions and excellent customer service that I can’t help but try a few of their offerings. Fair warning- if you’re a plant impulse buyer, looking at the Old House gardens catalog can be dangerous for your gardening budget.
When gardeners talk about bulbs, we’re often grouping together a bunch of different plant structures including true bulbs, corms, tubers, and rhizomes. From a planting perspective, I find it less useful to focus on what “type” of bulb I’m putting in the ground than other factors such as how deep to plant and how long a bulb can be out of the ground. For example, both daffodil and crocus bulbs can sit on a store display for a month or two without damage, as long as they’re not exposed to heat, freezing temperatures, or sunlight. Lily bulbs, however, dry out quickly, and I don’t trust lily bulbs that have been in bags in the basement of Fred Meyer for who-knows-how-long.
I prefer to plant my bulbs using a small trowel or hori-hori, rather than a tool specifically for bulb planting, mostly because I try to avoid buying single-purpose tools, unless you can’t do the job without them. I like the trowel or hori-hori because you can plant the bulb without disturbing the soil too much, which prevents dirt with weed seeds from spraying everywhere. To plant the bulbs, I stick the blade into the soil, lever it forward, drop the bulb in, and slide the blade out. For bulbs that need to be planted deeper than the hori-hori blade, such as most lily bulbs, I have to pull out a bigger shovel. The bigger shovel always sprays some soil, so I put about a half inch of mulch down to stop any exposed weed seeds from sprouting. I only use thicker mulch if I’m using it to protect the bulbs from frost, and plan to gently remove some of the mulch in the spring, so that the shoots don’t have trouble punching through thick, heavy mulch.
Some gardeners like to put fertilizer in the planting hole, and some like to fertilize in the spring, and other gardeners will fertilize any chance they get. I’ll admit that I don’t fertilize my bulbs at all, at least not with stuff that comes out of a box. My garden isn’t a farm, and doesn’t need to be fertilized like one. The previous owners of my house didn’t just leave me with lots of weeds, they also left me with decent soil (minus all the weed seeds). I top-dress most of my planting areas with a thin layer of lightweight mulch, like Gardner & Bloom Soil-building compost, just to keep the weed seeds from sprouting, which has the side benefit of providing my soil with plenty of nutrients.
Here are the bulbs that are new to my garden this year from Old House Gardens:
And from Van Engelen: