Have you ever noticed how some patches of tulips, some of which look like a cat planted the bulbs, thrive year after year, while others are just one hit wonders? And how many times have you paid more than common sense would dictate for a lily corm, only to have it sputter out before its flower buds begin to open their eyes? The cost of bulbs has risen so much in the last several years, that it is no longer practical to treat them all as annuals.
In general, bulbs grow best in full sun or part shade, but especially in the south, bulbs and their flowers last longer if they don’t bake in midday sun. Early flowering bulbs can be planted under deciduous trees. Bulbs that bloom later can be inter-planted with perennials, providing cooling shade for their feet. Our spring heat reduces what could be a 3-4 week bloom period for a given variety to just one week. Daffodils will fry and tulips will disintegrate on an unwelcome hot day in early spring, even in zone 6.
Good drainage and healthy soil are essential for spring-flowering bulbs. Most bulbs like a soil pH between 6 and 7, so test your soil and adjust the pH appropriately. Improve and lighten the soil into which bulbs will be planted to a depth of 12 inches. Planting in raised beds is a good way to avoid drainage issues. Feeding is also critical, both at the time of planting and subsequent falls for spring flowering bulbs.
Bulbs that don’t bloom are disappointing. Bulbs rot in poorly drained soils that remain saturated for extended periods. Bulbs may not bloom if they are overcrowded or don’t receive sufficient sunlight. Daffodils bloom less effusively if they are planted too shallow. Cutting off the leaves too soon after blooming results in bulbs having stored insufficient food for next year’s bloom. Many varieties of bulbs simply will not bloom a second year in our warm climate.
We can’t cover all the bulbs one could possibly plant in the garden, so let’s focus on two very popular beauties – daffodils and tulips.
Daffodils should be planted in well-drained soil which will receive at least six hours of sun, preferably filtered during bloom. The tops of the bulbs should be buried 6-8 inches deep for larger bulbs, and slightly shallower for small daffodil bulbs. Except for their inability to hold their breath underwater, daffodils are pretty darn tough.
Plant tulip varieties that work in warm climates, such as early, Darwin Hybrid, or species tulips. Learn whether tulips require pre-chilling before planting in your zone. Plant tulip bulbs with their shoulders eight inches deep, to ensure the bulbs stay cool. This discourages what is known as “shattering”, where the bulb divides into multiple smaller bulblets, incapable of supporting more than a few leaves, and maybe a tiny flower, the following spring. Tulips have exacting requirements, but if you meet them, they will continue to thrive for years.
The links below offer excellent advice on the hows and whens of planting, feeding, and maintaining a variety of bulbs and corms. Give your bulbs what they need, and they will reward you year after year with beautiful blooms and fragrance.
(Header photo of tulips in bloom courtesy of National Garden Bureau. I have yet to make tulips happy to be here.)