It is thrilling to be on my knees with bulb auger in hand and a bag of dried brown daffodil bulbs next to me. Planting bulbs is hard work, and it doesn’t provide instant gratification, but the thought of what will sprout in the spring, after the bulbs sleep all winter, is the motivation that drives all gardeners to plant these ephemeral beauties. Many times they are the only thing in bloom, making them the stars of the garden.
New gardeners might wonder why anyone would spend so much time and effort, just to see flowers bloom only for a few short weeks. But their brief show is the exact reason these plants are so prized.
Even with the best record-keeping, spring blooms are often a surprise. The angle of the sun rises as winter fades. It usually takes three days of bright sunshine and slightly warmer temperatures to get snow crocus to emerge. Those little cheery, colorful blooms mean everything and signal the start to another marvelous garden season.
Wherever I go, I try to spread the word about the joy of spring-blooming bulbs. It’s been frustrating to see bulb planting wane. I was lamenting that fact when social media informed me that one of my favorite sources for bulbs, Brent and Becky’s Bulbs was forced to shut down and regroup for a few days, overwhelmed with orders.
The unprecedented popularity of gardening, which coincided with the start of COVID last spring, continues into fall.
The first step to making the job of planting bulbs easier is getting a bulb auger. It’s a large drill bit that works with most power drills. I use a rechargeable battery-powered drill rated at 20 volts. I’ve used many augers over the last 35 years and have settled on the 3”x7” Power Planter Bulb Auger & Bedding Plant Tool. It’s built to last, has a hexagonal shaft to avoid slipping and no one is paying me to say that. It’s the tool I use when adding 1000 bulbs a year to the landscape.
Bulbs are planted three times as deep as the bulb itself. In the case of tulips and daffodils, that’s about eight inches. For crocus, it's only a few inches.
Also, consider planting tulips annuals. There are varieties like Darwin and species of tulips that can perennialize — but don’t count on it. They are also a favorite of deer.
The rest of the bulbs listed above will return year after year.
One trick I learned from Brent Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs is to soak crocus in a repellent. I use Bobbex. For the past two seasons, the bulbs have been unmolested by critters. The bright colors of crocus are such a welcome sight after a long winter.
Daffodils have never been touched by deer in my garden, making them the perfect plant to grow unprotected. There are countless early, mid-season and late varieties in many shapes and sizes. Once the daffodils bloom, spring has arrived in earnest.
The fragrance of hyacinths is unmatched. Cutting a few blossoms for a vase will fill the house with its amazing aroma.
Alliums are from the onion family, making them deer resistant. Probably most familiar to gardeners as purple globes on tall stems, alliums can take many different forms and colors.
Snowdrops are essential in my garden. These small bulbs are easy to plant and bloom as early as mid-January when the stars align. An extended thaw could mean early flowers — if not it might take until March. They will form a nice colony after a few years and the deer have no interest in them.
The same is true for Glory-of-the-Snow, which bloom right after crocus flowers and multiply freely.
Planting bulbs might not provide immediate results, but work done now will lead to years, even decades of beauty. One day someone will wonder, who planted these flowers? That’s the type of legacy every gardener hopes for.
Joe Hamm’s Daffodil Hortus in Washington County is the greatest collection of blooming daffodils in Western Pennsylvania. The fields of flowers are spectacular and something all daffodil lovers should see. Put a note on your calendar for mid-April to go see this free attraction.
Here is a list of my favorite varieties of bulbs to plant.
All local nurseries carry a nice selection of bulbs. If you can’t find what you need, these Internet sources are reliable and a good way to find unique varieties.