Yes, there is still time to get the spring flowering bulbs planted. The bulbs can be planted in rows or in clumps of basically the same varieties. I think bulbs are particularly lovely as part of an area with a great mix of variety, of color, of blooming time. Think of a meadow or a streamside or at least, variety.
The question then becomes how to achieve that natural look. Here is a strategy for creating a display of mixed bulbs with mixed blooming times.
First reacquaint yourself with the basic bulb-planting rule: plant the bulbs two to three times as deep as the bulb is tall. So if you are looking at the tiny bulbs of Chinodoxa (Glory of the Snow), they should be planted about 1-1.4 inches into the soil. Really large bulbs (tall alliums and tall fritillaries) require greater depth, often 6-8 inches above the top of the bulb.
As an example, we have some large King Alfred daffodils and tulips, allium and then some of the small species varieties of daffodils, tulips, crocus and more. And we want them to all bloom basically in the same area. How do we do that?
First, assemble a handful of long, thin marker material — thin dowels, straight (small) tree branches, rebar, round kitchen type curtain rods, round plant stakes, anything that will serve as a long marker. Next, dig the hole deep enough for the largest and most demanding bulbs and as wide as you want the display to be. If you are planting a quantity of bulbs — 12 or more of the largest bulbs — then the planting hole should be wide 24-36 inches or more. Set aside the soil in buckets or a wheelbarrow.
Arrange those bulbs that require deep planting in the base of the hole with good space between individual bulbs or clumps. Place one of the markers, vertically, by each bulb, or each tight clump. Cover that with 2-4 inches of soil and then place the bulbs that require that new depth (use a yardstick or make notes to consult) on that soil and put more vertical markets by each of those. Cover with soil to a depth of 2-3 inches and repeat the process of planting the smaller bulbs at the appropriate depth, marking them so they have their own growing area until the hole is filled with the soil you removed and the markers look like a mini forest of sticks.
As you do this you can make a drawing, write notes for a record, or give the entire project to serendipity and plan to be surprised in the spring. Remove the markers and know that you will have a bushel basket-sized clump of mixed spring bulbs that will naturalize on their own over time and negotiate with the other bulbs for space. Your task then is to enjoy them.
If you plan to use special bulb food, follow the directions on the package. Remember that the deer will not eat daffodils or fritillaries but consume tulips and crocus with gusto.
Cathie Draine is a South Dakota Cooperative Extension Master Gardener and a member of the Garden Writers Association. She lives and gardens in Whispering Pines. Contact her at blackhillsgarden.com.
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