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Adding Bulbs to the Garden

Mid-October to mid-November is the time of bulb planting for me. I must admit I have been thinking about this for quite a while. I ordered my first batch in March. The rest of them I ordered in May and June. I picked up a few at the local Costco in August. I  am planting a total of just over 700 bulbs this fall. Can you tell I love bulbs?! I have only planted Crocus in a small bed near my front door so this year was a big one for adding bulbs in other areas of my yard. I order them in bulk from wholesale companies to keep the price down. I can often buy 100 bulbs from a wholesaler for the same price as 10 bulbs from a retailer. And any extras I don’t have room for make wonderful gifts to gardening friends. 


Bulbs are great for several reasons. They are what I call a truly low maintenance plant. Once they are in the ground you really don’t have to do anything other than enjoy them when they bloom. There are several different types of what we call bulbs. There are true bulbs, corms, tubers, and rhizomes. My next article will explain the differences between each of these bulb types. For this article, let’s just call them all bulbs for the sake of simplicity. 


The first bulbs I received in the mail were Sternbergia Lutea. It’s a small bulb native to the Mediterranean that flowers in the fall and is often compared to a fall Crocus. Its flower is a beautiful deep golden yellow. It reaches about 5-8” tall and has grass-like green foliage that appears with the flowers and remains through the winter after the flowers are gone. 

Here is a picture of the bulbs before I planted them:

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You can see they are beginning to send up flower stems already. Time to get them in the ground!! 


The instructions say to plant them about 4” down in the ground and about 4” apart. I have an area I wanted to cover so they had a bit more than 4” between them.


There are many ways to plant bulbs. Some do it using a trowel, some use just their finger to poke a small hole. I have a couple of tools in my arsenal; one for small bulbs and one for large bulbs. Here is a picture of my small bulb planting tool of choice. It is called a Dibber. 

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It is a handy tool that you poke into the ground to make the hole for the bulb. It makes short work of planting small bulbs. I will post an article soon that outlines different bulb planting tools in case you are wondering what other options are out there to speed up the process of getting bulbs in the ground. 


The next step was to lay out the bulbs where I wanted to plant them. 📷


Then I used the Dibber to create a hold for each bulb, being careful not to poke any of my drip irrigation lines that water the creeping thyme you see surrounding the bulbs. 

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The Dibber is easy to push into the ground to create the hole for the bulb. After pulling the dibber out of the newly created hole I place the bulb in the hole with the root side down. This area is also called the basal stem. To understand what a basal stem is, look at an onion in your pantry. You might notice it has a tip and a root end (basal stem). Onions are bulbs, by the way. They are part of the Allium family. But that is a story for another article. It is this basal stem portion of the bulb that you want to try to place at the bottom of the hole. This will ensure the roots will grow out of the basal stem down into the dirt while the tip will be at the top of the hole where the flower bud will emerge and pop out of the soil. If you aren’t able to position the bulb in this way, or you just plain can’t tell which end is which, just drop it in the hole. Bulbs have the ability to adjust their own depth and direction to some extent so although it isn’t ideal, they will be okay. 


Once the bulb is in the hole I just pushed dirt back over the hole. I planted 50 bulbs in about fifteen minutes. 


Most bulbs that are planted in the fall will bloom the following spring so it can be an exercise in patience. In the case of the Sternbergia bulbs, since they bloom in the fall, I thought I’d have to wait an entire year to see them bloom. But, turns out I only had to wait a couple of weeks!! Here is a picture of the Sternbergia blooming about two weeks after I planted them. 

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Gorgeous, right?! And so worth the thirty minutes total I spent laying them out and planting them. I’ve read they will naturalize an area if they are happy so I am hoping they will cover the area I planted them on. What a lovely, cheerful addition to the fall garden! Happy bulb planting!

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