When it comes to plants, bulbs are about as easy as it gets.
“You plant spring-flowering bulbs in fall, they grow over winter, flourish in spring and go dormant in summer,” said Heather Stoven, a horticulturist with Oregon State University’s Extension Service. “Once they’re in the ground, they do quite well over multiple years with little maintenance.”
On top of that, bulbs are drought-tolerant. “That’s one of the great things about them,” she said. “Since they go dormant in summer, they don’t need to be watered.”
If you plan to intermingle bulbs with perennials or place them near shrubs, pair with plants that don’t need much irrigation, Stoven said. Or, if the area does get regular water, make sure the soil drains well.
Bulbs such as daffodils, tulips, crocus and hyacinth are planted in fall because they need some time to get their roots going before pushing up to put on a spring show. Although October and November are ideal for planting, bulbs can go into the ground until mid-December.
When purchasing bulbs, make sure you choose large ones. The bigger the bulb, the bigger the bloom, Stoven said. Also, avoid those with mold or soft spots, which signal rot. Plant as soon as possible, but if something comes up to delay you, store bulbs in a cool, dim place such as an unlit garage.
Before heading to the garden center, make a plan. Decide on color combinations. Do a little research so that you can choose early, mid- and late-blooming varieties for a longer display. Think about what to plant together – a mix of different types of bulbs is an attractive option. As you get ready to plant, dig holes to fit multiple bulbs rather than planting one at a time. The effect is more natural.
“Groupings are really nice,” Stoven said. “You’ll get a mass of color.”
When digging the hole, it’s best to follow directions on the package for planting depth, but a general rule of thumb is to plant three times as deep as the bulb is wide. Add some organic material – compost, well-rotted manure or mulch – to the bottom of the hole, place bulb pointed side up and cover with soil. Adding fertilizer is not necessary but, if you feel compelled, use superphosphate or a low-concentrated product labeled for bulbs, Stoven said.
There’s no need to dig bulbs up after flowering, but letting the foliage turn brown and die back is a good idea so that the nutrients contained in the leaves return to the bulb and it can start the cycle once again.
Here are Stoven’s recommendations for uncommon spring-blooming bulbs: