Time to plant spring bulbs

Fall is often the time we put garden tools away as many perennial plants are preparing to brown and go dormant, but it is the perfect time to plan next spring’s floral display and plant spring-flowering bulbs.

The best time to plant spring bulbs is late September through October to allow sufficient time for a good root system to develop before winter. Depending on the location, spring bulbs begin blooming in late February (snowdrops) and continue until late June (alliums).

When purchasing bulbs, keep in mind that larger bulbs will produce larger blooms. Bulbs should be firm and free of rotting spots or signs of disease. Check out garden centers and online bulb retailers early for the best selection.

For the greatest visual impact, plant bulbs in groupings and large drifts or waves of color in areas that receive at least 8 hours of sunlight daily. Mix them in with other perennials and shrubs to screen the foliage after blooms fade.

The general rule of thumb when planting is to bury them two to three times deeper than the length of the bulb, measured top to bottom. Bulbs should be spaced 6 to 12 inches apart to allow for spreading and future divisions. Make sure to plant with the nose of the bulb (pointy side) facing upward, and the root plate (flatter side) facing downward.

After covering the planted bulbs with soil, water the area well to settle the bulbs into the soil and initiate root development. If there is little rain during the fall, continue to water weekly until the ground freezes. Adding a light, 2-inch layer of mulch to the soil after planting can help minimize temperature fluctuations in the winter and conserve moisture in the soil.

To prevent pesky squirrels and chipmunks from digging up your bulbs, cover the area with chicken wire, hardwire mesh, or plastic garden mesh after planting, and mulch over the top. Avoid using natural fertilizers (like fish emulsion or bone meal) that may attract animals. They typically favor sweet-tasting tulip and crocus bulbs but will usually avoid digging up daffodils, alliums, scilla and hyacinth.

Get a head start on your spring-blooming porch pots by layering bulbs in a container now to overwinter outside. Layer the bulbs like lasagna – the largest bulbs are placed in the bottom of the container (with a drainage hole), add 2 inches of potting soil on top of the bulbs and then plant the next sized bulbs. Continue with three to four layers to create a dramatic and colorful arrangement next spring. Use the container of soil and bulbs as a base this winter for an evergreen arrangement or decor.