How to Plant Spring Bulbs
by Suzanne DeJohn
Dahlias are easy to grow and create a huge visual impact
Learn how to plant bulbs! Spring-planted, summer-blooming bulbs, such as Gladiolus, Begonias and Dahlias, are some of the easiest and most rewarding plants to grow in your garden. Here are some guidelines to help you get your bulbs off to a good start.
When and Where to Plant
Many spring-planted bulbs originate from tropical climates and won't tolerate cold temperatures. Wait to plant these tender bulbs until all danger of frost is past and the soil temperature is above 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Most bulbs should be planted directly in the garden or containers, but Begonias should be started several weeks before bringing outdoors to ensure summer blooms.
If you must store the bulbs more than a few days before planting, read the instructions in Storing Your Bulbs Before Planting in Spring.
Calla Lilies are a colorful and elegant addition to any garden.
Preparing the Soil
Unless otherwise noted, bulbs prefer well-drained soil — soggy soil will lead to rot. If water puddles in the soil after a heavy rain, consider planting the bulbs in raised beds or in containers. For best results follow the recommendations for light levels; for example, bulbs that prefer full sun may grow leggy and topple over if planted in shade.
Loosen soil in the planting bed to a depth of at least 8". Although bulbs contain all the nutrients they need to grow and bloom this season, you may want to mix some compost into the planting bed to help improve drainage. If you want to add fertilizer, mix it into the soil at this time. (Avoid adding fertilizer directly to the planting hole because concentrated fertilizer can burn roots.)
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Using a trowel or bulb planter, dig a hole to the recommended depth. This depth is measured from the top of the bulb to the soil line. For example, if the instructions say to plant the bulb 3" deep, and the bulb is 2" high, dig a hole about 5" deep. Plant the bulb by placing it in the hole, then backfill with soil, firming the soil to eliminate air pockets. Which end is up? If the bulb has a pointed end, plant this end up. If you are unsure which is the, plant bulbs on their side — they'll know which way to grow. Bulbs planted with the wrong end up will still grow, but they may take longer than usual to emerge. Water thoroughly after planting to settle the soil around the bulbs.
It may take weeks or even a month for the growth on new bulbs to emerge. How quickly a bulb grows depends on a number of factors, including the species, degree of dormancy and temperature of the soil.
- Apply water as necessary to keep soil moist but not soaking wet. Apply a 2" to 3" layer of organic mulch, like shredded bark or pine straw, after planting to help conserve soil moisture and prevent weeds.
- Keep an eye out for any soil disturbance, as this could indicate that the bulbs are being dug up by squirrels, chipmunks or rabbits.
- Weed your bulb bed frequently to keep the bed tidy and so the weeds don't crowd out the bulbs.
- Tall, top-heavy plants may need staking or another type of support to keep them from falling over from the weight of the flowers. Removing spent blooms will encourage dahlias and other shrubby flowers to continue blooming.
Other than that, most bulbs are relatively maintenance-free during the growing season.
Planting depth is measured from the soil line to the top of the bulb.
Most bulbs (like Gladiolus) should be planted pointy side up. If you're not sure, plant the build sideways and it will find its way.