Bulb Planting

Bulbs—a perfect choice for careful landscaping and color coordination.

By Matt Damsker


Bulbs Go Wild
Once they were wildflowers, poking their colorful heads and delicate blossoms through the soft spring earth wherever the guiding force of nature had set them down. But their wild ways were tamed as spring bulbs became a perfect choice for careful landscaping and color coordination. To many gardeners, the autumnal rite of bulb planting has become an almost rote exercise in precise floral grouping.

True, the appeal of well-placed bulbs, brightening April's promise around trees and in borders, is a strong one. Yet there's a different joy in seeing them crop up as if by chance, knowing you sowed such a wonderfully wild array. Many spring bulbs naturalize well in most North American regions—galanthus, scillas, crocuses, muscari, daffodils, most species of tulips (including Tulipa greigii, T. fosterana and T. kaufmanniana), alliums, anemones and others. And you don't need a lot of space to savor the effect.

The basic technique for naturalizing is quite simple. Sloping garden areas, borders between shrubs, wooded spots, and even lawns are appropriate sites. Start with at least a dozen bulbs, choose your general area and scatter them. Dig holes wherever they fall—if you want bulbs in a specific area, such as around a tree, dig a trench and scatter them in it. But the rules of spacing don't apply; some bulbs will be far apart, others close together, affording an uncontrolled look.

Don't plant too thickly at first, however leave some room for natural increases. Although you can naturalize more than one type of bulb in the same site, it's usually best to separate them, if only by color, unless they really complement each other with a balance of bold and delicate. For example, muscari, especially the popular grape hyacinth, looks better in front of daffodils than intermingled. And for the continuance of naturalized bulbs in lawn or grassy areas, don't cut the grass until the leaves of the bulbs have begun to yellow, about 4 to 6 weeks after the flowers fade.

Your soil may need improving, so have it tested. A 6 to 7 pH is desirable for most bulbs; soil below 5.5 or above 7.3 pH will cause your bulbs to fail. If your soil isn't well drained or if it's too hard, consider adding sand to raise the bed or soil rich in organic matter to lighten it.

If rodents are a problem where you garden choose your bulbs carefully. Rodents love crocuses and tulips as well as hyacinths and blue grape muscari. Try scillas, daffodils and endymion, which rodents usually avoid.

Interplanting bulbs with a woody groundcover, such as juniper or cotoneaster, may deter small animals, and many people find that strategic plantings of crown imperial fritillaria among tulips will discourage squirrels, mice, and deer.

For a foolproof method, plant the Bulbs, top with 2 inches of soil, and cover with half-inch mesh hardware cloth, bending and securing its edges into the ground. Individual mesh baskets are also good protectors. Certain bulbs that are toxic in nature and have a foul taste can deter small animals. Gardeners plagued by animals eating their bulbs might try daffodils, alliums, chionodoxa, colchicum, fritillaria, galanthus, muscari, and scilla.