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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Fall bulb planting guide: Garden Detective

Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells)

Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells) Credit: Handout

As the growing season winds down, it's time to set the wheels in motion for spring, when you know you'll be clamoring for signs of life. Planting bulbs now is one of the nicest things you can do for your future self.

Bulbs can be planted anytime from the beginning of fall until the ground freezes. This is easiest if you're starting a new bed, because you can dig up an entire area, add bulbs and cover. To incorporate bulbs into an existing garden, you must dig each hole individually to avoid disturbing established plants.

Either way, give bulbs a nutritional boost and maximize their strength and vigor by incorporating a 5-10-5 fertilizer into the soil. For beds, apply at the rate of one pound per 100 square feet before planting. Till it in to a depth of 4 inches. For individual bulbs, add about a half teaspoon into each planting hole.

If starting a new bed, dig the area to the depth recommended for the bulbs you are planting (see box), lay them pointy end up and cover with soil. To plant bulbs individually, dig a hole using a trowel, dibble, power-drill auger or other bulb-planting device. Drop one bulb in each hole, pointy-end up, and cover with soil. Water after planting and regularly in spring after buds appear.

To discourage critters from making a winter meal of your spring garden, add a handful of crushed oyster shells to planting holes. If you think bulbs will be targeted, you can lay them in a bulb cage and lower the whole thing into the ground. Plants will grow through the cage openings, but squirrels, voles, moles and other animals won't be able to gain access.

Recommended planting depths

Bulbs are actually food storage systems that provide nourishment throughout the dormant seasons to ensure future growth, vigor and blooming. Their sizes are directly related to their required planting depths. Bulbs should be planted at a depth that's roughly 21/2 times their diameter. Here are planting guidelines for the most popular bulbs:

Bulb depth in inches

Anemone 3

Crocus 4

Daffodils 9-10

Hyacinths 9

Jonquils 7

Lilies 11

Scilla 6

Snowdrops 5

Tulips 8

Bloom schedules

Some bulbs bloom in very early spring, while others don't make an appearance until it's nearly summer. To ensure a garden that blooms in succession throughout the season, establish a game plan using this schedule:


Glory of the snow

Snow crocus


Early daffodils

Winter aconite



Species tulips

Trumpet daffodils

Giant crocus





Grape hyacinth



Dutch iris



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