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How To Plant Bulbs

Planting bulbs is relatively straightforward. Dig a hole, drop in a bulb, and cover it with dirt. Well, at least it's almost that easy. To get them off to a good start, follow these bulb-planting tips:


Using the Right Tools

The Trowel: Easily the most popular all around tool with gardeners, a trowel is also a great tool for planting bulbs, especially if you have several types of different bulbs that require different planting depths. Choose a trowel that has depth measurements marked down the length of the blade.

The Bulb Planter: This cylindrical hand-held tool is designed specifically for planting bulbs. Simply push it into the ground and pop out a soil core. Bulb planters come in handy if you're doing a large planting, but they are difficult to use in compacted soils. Most have depth measurements stamped on the side of the cylinder.

The Dibber (also called the dibble): The beauty of the dibber lies in its simplicity. Shaped like a carrot, it's only job is to poke holes in the dirt. A dibber is a great choice for planting small bulbs but can be difficult to use in compacted soils.


When to Plant

Ideally, bulbs should be planted as soon as possible after you purchase them, although some bulbs (tulips, crocus, and narcissus) can be stored in a cool, dry place for a time before planting. In general, planting times are based on bloom times. Spring-blooming bulbs require a period of cold dormancy to bloom and must be planted in the fall. Many summer and fall blooming bulbs can survive cold temperatures and need to be planted in the spring.

Spring and Summer Blooming Bulbs to Plant in the Autumn

  • crocus (Crocus)
  • crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis)
  • daffodil (Narcissus)
  • glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa)
  • grape hyacinth (Muscari)
  • hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis)
  • lily (Lilium)
  • ornamental onion (Allium)
  • Siberian squill (Scilla siberica)
  • snowdrop (Galanthus)
  • tulip (Tulipa)
  • windflower (Anemone blanda)

Summer Blooming Bulbs to Plant in the Spring


  • caladium (Caladium bicolor)
  • calla (Zantedeschia)
  • canna (Canna xgeneralis)
  • crocosmia Crocosmia)
  • dahlia (Dahlia)
  • elephant's ear (Alocasia and Colocasia)
  • lily-of-the-Nile (Agapanthus)
  • tiger flower (Tigridia pavonia)
  • tuberose begonia (Begonia xtuberhydrida)

How Deep to Plant

The depth of the hole will vary according to the type of bulb your are planting, so check with your vendor for exact instructions. Generally, larger bulbs (tulips, narcissus, and hyacinth) are planted to a depth of two or three times their height. In sandy soils, they can be planted slightly deeper than the recommended depth. In heavy soils, they can be planted slightly closer to the surface. Small bulbs are generally planted at a depth equal to their own height.


5 Steps to Planting

  1. Prepare the Soil: Whether you're planting bulbs in containers or in beds, most prefer well draining soil. If necessary, amend heavy soils with sand or compost, and toss in a handful of bone meal before planting. Ideally, soil should be prepared at least one week out from planting.
  2. Dig the Hole: Arrange your bulbs on top of the prepared soil to mark the each spot where you want a dig hole. The depth of the hole will depend on the bulb, but it should be at least twice its diameter. The bottom of the hole should be flat and roomy enough so that the bulb does not touch either side of the hole. Try to keep the sides of the hole vertical. Avoid digging your hole in the shape of an ice cream cone.
  3. Place the bulb in the hole: Set the bulb down into the bottom of the hole so it's facing right side up (roots on bottom). Twist it gently so the basil plate of the bulb makes contact with the soil.
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  5. Replace the Soil: Cover the hole with dirt and press it down gently.
  6. Mark the spot: Bulbs leave no above-ground evidence of their planting location, so mark the area with a plant label.

Protecting Your Bulbs from Animals

Cover the ground over your bulbs with chicken wire or hardware cloth after planting. (Use bricks to secure). Make sure to removed the wire after the ground is frozen, or in early spring when stems start to peek through the ground. Sprinkling coarse gravel or non-clumping kitty litter into the planting can also help deter rodents from digging. Avoid using straw to mulch around your bulbs. It's an attractive winter bedding that only encourages rodent activity near your bulbs.

About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services.

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