Bulbs Today, Flowers Next Spring

Tulips don't last forever, and this past spring it was clear that many of the ones we planted in the cutting garden were past their prime. Some sent up only leaves; others had weak, spindly flowers. I made a note to order some replacement bulbs in the summer, and this week they finally arrived in the mail for fall planting.

Planting bulbs is pretty easy, as long as you plan ahead. You need to get them in the ground a couple weeks before frost so that you can still easily work the soil, and so they have time to develop their roots for a month or so before a hard freeze. Here's what I set out today:


First I hoed out all the weeds in the bulb bed. There were quite a few, because this bed is ordinarily covered in chicken wire to protect the bulbs from squirrels and chipmunks. It's very effective, but it does make it harder to get weeds out because it's hard to grasp them all the way down at the base to bring them up by their roots.

Once the weeding was done, I set out the new bulbs:


Since this is a cutting garden, there's no need to try to make natural-looking groupings or anything. I just spaced them about 4 inches apart in even rows. There's more space at the back of the bed because this bed runs along the porch, and the porch roof has no gutter. I know from experience that nothing can survive beneath the intense waterfall of the splash zone, so I left a little buffer.

To plant the bulbs, I use a 4-inch spade (good ones have measurements right on the blade, so you can get the right planting depth). I plunge it straight in to the hilt, which makes a 7-inch hole once I wiggle it back and forth and hold the dirt out of the way:


This went quickly for me because the soil in these beds is loose and fertile. If it were compact, though, I would have to take extra time to break up the soil down to about a foot, then place the bulbs at a depth of six or eight inches. That loosening of soil is important for good root development.

Speaking of root development, it's important to give each bulb a little feeding of bone meal to help with this:


This can be dusty and messy, but it's not hard to do. I just grab a big dash of it in my fingers and sprinkle it in the hole before I put the bulb in. Cover it all up with dirt and repeat.

Once all 60 tulips and daffodils were in the ground, Kirk and I replaced the chicken wire cover to the bed:


This is a permanent feature, because we have a gang of squirrels who will steal all these bulbs within the week if we don't keep them covered. The wire is held in place with some wooden battens around the walls of the raised bed. You can also see some extra bone meal scattered across the bed in the photo above. It will wash into the soil when the bed is watered, which is the last step.

Instead of planting the hyacinths with the rest of the bulbs, I thought I'd try to get them into a sunnier spot. I planted hyacinths a couple years ago, but not a single one came up, even though all the rest of the tulips did. The new hyacinths are nestled between two rose bushes, which is going to be one sweet-smelling flower bed. Because they aren't in the official bulb bed, I had to go with a makeshift wire covering:


This hardware cloth has much smaller openings, so I added a reminder to my phone so I won't forget to remove it in the spring. There's no way stems and leaves could find their way through it, so I'll get rid of it by April 1.

While planting, I found that our apricot roses had a few autumn blooms:


This was especially sweet, because it shows that our roses have bounced back from the rose slug infestation they suffered back in the spring. If all goes well, we should be enjoying some lovely scents on the breeze next spring.

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