If you read my previous post on bulb planting, you know that I am a bit of a bulb fanatic. I am planting over 700 bulbs in my yard this fall so it’s no wonder I have become a bit of an expert on the best tools available for the job. Below is a list of my top five favorite tools for planting bulbs as quickly, effectively, and painlessly as possible.
The Dibber (also sometimes called a dibble or dibbler) is my go to tool when it comes to planting small bulbs such as Crocus or dwarf Iris, especially when I have a large number of them to put in the ground. It is ergonomically shaped, easy to clean and store, simple to use, and does its job quickly and efficiently. I also like that its design helps it create the hole in the soil while also being careful not to puncture my drip irrigation line buried an inch or two under the soil. It has a knack for sliding around any drip line I happen to run into while still allowing me to create a large number of holes in a short amount of time. It consists of a pointed tip between four and six inches long that is inserted into the soil to create the hole along with a t-shaped handle at the top which creates an ergonomic grip while using the tool.
The Auger can look a bit daunting. They attach to a hand drill which gives it the power to drill into the soil and create holes much like you would with a drill bit in drywall. They are available in different lengths and widths which gives you added flexibility in purchasing the right size auger for the job. Although this tool creates a bit of a mess as it ploughs through the soil, it is my favorite for making holes for large bulbs that need to be planted 5” or more below ground, such as Daffodils or the larger Alliums. It also requires you to have a drill, preferably a cordless one, to power it so if you don’t already own one it would be a more expensive solution than the others on this list. It requires some muscle to drive the auger into the soil, especially in heavier, clay soils. I have used my Auger on heavy clay and it was a tiring experience. On more loamy soil it is much easier but still can become tedious on the forearms if you have a lot of bulbs to plant.
The Long-handled Bulb Planter
This tool comes in many variations but typically has a 3-4’ handle with a pointed end to cut through the soil, a soil-holding chamber, and a foot rest for pushing the tool into the soil with extra leverage. If bending over or sitting on the ground is not an option then this tool is your best bet. It allows you to create planting holes from a standing position. They each have different ways to release the soil plug from the tool so it can be reinserted over the bulb. If you choose this route, look for a tool with solid metal construction and a wide footrest. Cheaper versions of this tool have dull blades that can bend, making it much more difficult to use, as well as narrow footrests that restrict the amount of leverage you can apply and can allow your foot to slip off the footrest in wet or muddy conditions. I prefer this tool when I don’t want to squat or sit to dig the holes and when I am planting a large area with no irrigation lines to worry about slicing through.
The Hand Bulb Planter
This tool is similar to the long-handled bulb planter but without the long handle. The Hand Planter is the tool I see most often at garden centers and big box home improvement stores. It consists of a round, soil holding chamber with a handle above it. The gardener uses the handle to push the round chamber into the soil and pull out the soil plug. The tool can be made to release the soil plug, usually by squeezing the handle together, so it can be reinserted into the hole. This tool is adequate if you have soft, loamy soil and are planting a small number of bulbs, say less than twenty. The blades tend to be rather dull and I find the motion required to release the soil to be difficult and tiring for my forearms and wrist. Still, it’s better than no tool at all, and it is one of the least expensive tools for the job.
Most gardeners already have a trowel in their set of gardening tools and it can certainly be used to assist with bulb planting. Some trowels have inches marked on the trowel blade which can help with identifying the correct planting depth for bulbs. Depending on your soil type and the shape of the trowel, it can be difficult to push it down into the soil to an appropriate depth for bulb planting. You may find it easier to dig a bit at a time until you get to the proper depth. Trowels tend to create holes that are wider at the top and narrow as you get deeper so it may end up being a much larger hole than needed when you get to the right depth. This tool is best used when planting a small number of bulbs. Using this tool can be time-consuming but it is an inexpensive option for those on a tight budget.
A good rule of thumb when selecting the right tool is to consider how many bulbs you are planting and what your budget is for a tool purchase. The answer to these two questions should point you to the best tool for your situation. Happy bulb planting!