Sunday, November 27, 2011

Simple Bulb Planting Tips

As I worked on planting our 800 new bulbs this fall, I thought about a few tips I use and thought another lover-of-spring might find them useful.

There are two ways to plant a quantity of bulbs: many in larger holes or singly in smaller holes. I think the choice should be made based on the effect you desire in a given location. At the moment, I tend to like grouping my larger bulbs (tulips, muscari) and plant smaller bulbs singly (crocuses, iris reticulata).

If you decide to plant in larger holes, then I have found it useful to mark the bulb locations with plant stakes. Then stand back and take a look at what you have marked.
Small plant stakes mark the new bulb locations
Small plant stakes mark the new bulb locations
This is all about visualization: think back to your garden in April and May (pictures are a huge help!), think about the colors, the forms, what was lacking. Where do you want these bulbs to live? Move your stakes around as you look at it from different angles.

 Once you have decided where they will live, it is time to commit and start digging. When planting in the midst of an already full garden bed, maneuvering the excess dirt becomes one of the biggest problems. My favorite way to solve this problem is by using a piece of plastic to hold the dirt.
Plastic holding the planting dirt
Using plastic enables me to even place it on top of my lower perennials (in this case creeping phlox). Another benefit is that if I happen to dig up some old bulbs in the process of planting new ones, I will see them left on the plastic instead of losing them on top of the dirt somewhere. And when I am done placing the bulbs, I can pick up the plastic and dump the fill right back in the hole with one motion.

Japanese knife planting crocuses in tree roots
Japanese knife made quick work of planting 100 crocuses in the Front Woodland
And when it comes to planting bulbs singly, especially small bulbs (though I also planted a few tulips this way), my Japanese soil knife made it swift work even amongst tree roots.  I think that planting some of the bulbs closer together gives it a more naturalized look, even while you are covering a larger area.


  1. Love these tips!!!! Wow, 800!! I thought I had a lot. A measly 200 here :-)

  2. 800!

    I regret following advice that one should spread bulbs to give them room to divide. I want them to look good in the very next spring. Not wait for them to spread. Surely it's ok to do this and simply dig and spread them out again sooner?

    Your knife looks very handy.

  3. The Japanese soil knife seems like a great tool. I plant bulbs in a similar way--most often I use a shovel. And I use newspaper to hold the soil until I replace it over the bulbs. It's messy work, isn't it? But it will be fun to see posts about your spring blooms!

  4. I plant small bulbs with a dibble. A bulb auger attached to a battery powered drill is great for large bulbs. You must be very happy that all 800 are in the ground.

  5. Julie these are great of my biggest problems is planning for the bulbs from spring on...oh well next year!!

  6. I can't wait to see those 800 bulbs up and blooming! Great tips!

  7. The pros I work with dig the large holes and tarp the grass too. They did just invest in a powered bulb digger though. 800 is a lot for a homeowner, but pretty standard on commercial jobs, with counts being much higher often.

  8. Bookmarking the link for that Japanese knife. Thank you for the tips :)

  9. Great tips Julie, I'm not planitng bulbs this year but I'll try to remember this for next year. Christina

  10. Wow, all those bulbs will be gorgeous in spring!

    I've lost track of the number I've planted, though I'm sure its not 800 :) I love bulbs. Here in my new garden I seem to plant bulbs before I plant perennials, so I have the opposite problem of thinking ahead to where I want to eventually put perennials and planting the bulbs roughly around that.

    I might have to look into that Japanese soil knife! My trusty trowel and my bulb digger has issues with all our clay and rocks.


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