By Rachel Link
Chilly temperatures, fallen leaves, and short, dark days might not feel like the right time to get into your garden, but now is the perfect time for bulb planting! When your flowers begin to bloom in springtime, you’ll be glad you planted extra bulbs in fall. Here are PHS’s tips for getting the best "post-snow" show from your bulbs.
Here’s what you’ll need:
If your garden is mostly shady, try bulbs like snowdrops, crocuses, scilla, lily of the valley, or miniature daffodils.
If you have full sun, you can grow tulips, any type of daffodil, all types of lilies, as well as many smaller bulbs.
If deer visit your garden, stick to daffodils, allium, hyacinth, snowdrops, dwarf iris, and fritillaria. Don’t be tempted to plant tulips unless you have a plan to keep the deer away with netting or deer spray. They love to eat bulbs just as they open, so don't let all your hard work get nibbled away!
Planting your bulbs at the correct depth is critical. Dig a hole in the ground about three times the height of your bulbs. Create mixed plantings by layering larger and smaller bulbs, with the largest bulbs on the bottom. For a naturalized effect, avoid planting your bulbs in a straight line – that's not how they’d grow in nature, after all! Once you’ve laid your bulbs, add fertilizer to the hole before covering, if you wish.
After planting, compress the soil well. Digging squirrels can be a problem with freshly planted bulbs, particularly with tulips. If you deal with unwanted garden visitors, cover the area temporarily with netting or chicken wire, or sprinkle chili pepper flakes to deter rodents from digging. Once the soil has settled, it’s less likely to be disturbed by animals.
Although it seems impossible to forget the location of your efforts, by spring you may be trying to remember where those special daffodils were planted. Place a label next to planted areas, or jot down your planting scheme on a piece of paper for future reference so 1) you don’t plant over your bulbs and 2) you’ll know what to expect to bloom come spring!
Bulbs like daffodils and some lilies will naturalize, increasing over time. It’s a good idea to divide them every few years to give them more space to grow and to maximize the number of blooms—overcrowding (along with too much shade) is the most common reason daffodils will fail to flower. Fall is a good time for this task, when the bulbs are dormant.
Simply lift up dirt clumps that contain the bulbs with a pitchfork, trying not to gouge any individual bulbs. Break apart the bulbs and replant them in a larger amount of space that will get lots of sun in the springtime. You may have more bulbs than you can use, in which case you can share extras with your fellow gardeners.