It’s definitely the end of the growing season, our days are getting noticeably shorter, both day and night temperatures have cooled, and there’s even snow on the ground! All of this contributes to cooler soil temperatures which makes it the right time to plant bulbs for enjoyment next spring.
Bulbs are one of the easiest plants to work with. Last spring I wrote about splitting bulbs and a little about growing bulbs in containers. Growing bulbs in the ground is even easier than that. All it takes is a little planning, a little purchasing, and a little protecting. There are several types of popular bulbs, the one most think about first are tulips which were brought to Europe in the 16 th century from the Ottoman Empire. The Dutch were the first Europeans to go all out with tulips to the point where tulips formed the basis of their monetary system for a while.
Today there are multiple thousands of tulip varieties of different sizes, shapes, colors, and color combinations.
Other popular fall planted bulbs are crocus, muscari (also called grape hyacinth), daffodil (narcissus), and hyacinth.
Crocus and muscari tend to be the shortest and will be the first to emerge; crocus may even come up when snow is still on the ground earning their longer name “snow crocus.” Crocus are usually white or purple but yellows, oranges, pinks, and blues can sometimes be found. Muscari are almost always blue, daffodil yellow or yellow and white, and the most aromatic of them all hyacinth which come in a variety of colors.
Chose a location that receives at least 6 hours of sun a day. Bulbs need well drained soil so sometimes augmenting the native soil with sand and organic material will be necessary. The best planting time is when ground temperatures lower to the mid-50’s; a time when crickets have stopped chirping, most fall trees have started turning colors, and more often than not you’re driving with the heat on. Fall planted bulbs can go in later almost to the point of total ground freeze-up. Bulbs go pointy end up, bottom of the bulb about 3 times as deep in the ground as the bulb is tall. Wait for fertilizing until spring, but do keep the ground moist (not saturated) until freeze-up. Clumps of color stand out better than single bulbs so to achieve that plant 5 or more bulbs in a cluster, no more than 2” apart from each other, closer for smaller bulbs, farther apart for bigger ones.
A nice several inch thick layer of mulch will top the area off but before the mulch is put on, I put a piece of chicken wire down, held in place by rocks or landscape staples. This serves as a protective layer against hungry, marauding squirrels who never seem to understand that the work we do in our gardens is for us, not them.
So before the ground freezes, which should still take a while, find the bulbs you like, do a little digging, don’t forget the chicken wire, and look forward to seeing your work pay off next spring!
Art Smith is a co-owner of East Pierre Landscape and Garden Center, 5400 SD Hwy. 34, Pierre.