Fall bulb planting for vibrant color all next year

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Painting Spring Flowers

Painting Spring Flowers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you planning on planting some bulbs this fall?

Have you ever seen a flower garden where there is something new happening all of the time? One of my favorites was a garden that had white crocus, followed by daffodils, followed by red and yellow tulips, followed by pink and lavender tulips, followed by pink, then yellow, then white, then orange lilies. Blooming with the orange lilies were purple butterfly plants. I had over 800 bulbs in that one bed. There are a couple of ways to pull this off.

The first way is the method that most people use. You plant a row of say crocus, then a row of daffodils behind it, then a row of tulips, and so on. Eventually, you will run out of room.

The second method is to strategically layer. Here’s a good description from MrBrownThumb.com

Visit your local garden center and buy all the bulbs you’re interested in planting in your garden. Choose a sunny, well-draining section of the garden you want to plant your bulbs in. Take the largest bulbs like tulipsdaffodils, lilies and hyacinths and plant them at the recommended planting depth on the packaging. Did you toss the packaging before reading the planting depth suggestion? Well, I generally plant them about twice as deep as they are tall. You can also plant them as deep as the blade on your garden trowel. Can’t find your garden trowel? Just plant the bulbs about 6-8 inches deep.

Once you’ve planted in your large bulbs, cover the bulbs with about 1-2 inches of the same soil you dug out of that hole. Directly over that, you will plant your miniature narcissus, crocus, grape hyacinths, scilla and any other small bulbs that caught your fancy at the garden center. Now fill in the hole with the rest of the soil. It may be a good idea to leave some kind of plant tag or garden marker over newly planted bulbs to remind you not to step or dig there.

In the spring the small bulbs will break dormancy first and begin to flower. By the time the small bulbs have stopped blooming it will be time for the larger bulbs to put on show of flowers in the garden. Keep in mind that bulbs look better planted in masses so don’t plant just one or two bulbs per hole. Plant your larger bulbs in groups of four or more.

Are you gardening on a balcony or patio and don’t have ground you can plant bulbs in?Layering spring-flowering garden bulbs in containers and raised beds works too.



And here is a great step-by-step tutorial from http://gardenforever.com/pages/artLayering.htm

Start by choosing bulbs carefully, the bigger the bulb the larger the blooms is a good rule-of-thumb when purchasing bulbs. There are basically four main “layers” of bulbs that work particularly well for this method of planting:

  • Lilium (including the Asiatics, Trumpets and Orientals)
  • Narcissi and Allium
  • Tulips
  • Muscari, Scilla, Iris reticulata, Crocus (the smallest, earliest blooming bulbs).

Any layer can be left out and the scheme still works quite well. Larger areas can also be planted using this method of layering types of bulbs. Within a layer you can vary the bulbs, putting 2-3 Asiatic lilies with a couple of Oriental ones, thus extending the the final blooming time. Early and late blooming tulips also work well this way. It is recommended that you choose one type of early bloomer and one late one, rather than mixing too many variations.

To determine quantities to buy there are a few points to consider. The more intensely you plant, the more blooms you will have next spring. As well, though, bulbs like narcissi will form offsets and will need dividing sooner if planted extremely close together. In a hole about 18″ wide, about 4-5 lilies, 3-5 daffodils or 2-3 alliums (or a combination of the two), 5-7 tulips, and 20 or so small bulbs would be adequate. Again, size of the bulbs comes into play here as daffodils that are top size can be very large indeed and can have so many offsets that you would have a tough time fitting 5 in a hole this size.

There are two points about colour selection worth mentioning. First of all working with an organized colour scheme for bulbs blooming at the same time helps bring continuity to a small garden where lots of different colours can make the eye jump around and give a chaotic feeling to the space. On the other hand, bear in mind that different bulbs will be in bloom at different times so that the bright cheery yellow tulips in May will never see the the deep pink Oriental lilies in August.

The first step in the garden is to find a space about 16-18″ wide. Often just such a bare spot is evident between perennials during the summer. Come bulb planting season, though, the flower garden can look pretty barren and it can be hard to recall where the perennials of summer were once in full bloom. A little pre-planning can help in this situation. One gardener we know, surveys her garden throughout the summer and when she sees a “hole” in the bed, she puts in a marker stick to remind herself that this is where she wants to layer-up her bulbs. Since the goal is to have something in bloom from the first crocus of spring through June Allium and August Oriental lilies, the spot really does have to be empty of other plants to begin with.

Step 1 Dig a deep hole at least 12″ but 14″ is better and about 16-18″ wide. This can, of course, vary according to the space you are trying to fill. Think of it as an “infill project” much like architects design in existing residential areas where there is a vacant lot.

Step 2 Remove the soil and mix it with a good quantity of compost (a shovelful or two) and a couple handfuls of a bulb booster. Set soil mixture aside.

Step 3 In the bottom of the hole, place about 2-3″ of course sand. This will provide good drainage for the bulbs.

Step 4 Next fill in about 2-3″ of the soil mixture.

Step 5 Now you can start to plant. Lilies go in the deepest. You might fit 4-6 or even more in the hole, depending on their size and that of the hole. They bloom last, from late June for the Asiatics, July for the Trumpets to August for the Orientals (depending on your location and summer conditions). Cover with about 2″ of good soil mix.

Step 6
 Next plant daffodils and alliums. Basically you try to fit them in around the bulbs below but don’t worry too much as they will find their way to the surface around other bulbs planted above them. Again cover with 2″ of good soil.

Step 7-9 Continue with tulips and soil and finally the smallest bulbs that are also the earliest blooming, the Iris reticulata, crocus, etc. Finally cover with the last of the soil for about 2 more inches above the last bulbs.

After the blooms have faded, be sure to let the foliage die back on its own as this is how bulbs replenish themselves for next year’s flowers.

Don’t worry that bulbs like tulips might be planted a little deeper than they would be if you just planted them on their own. The extra coverage will provide better protection from any freeze-thaw problems in winter and the worst that will happen is they might bloom a week later than your neighbour’s tulips. You’ll already have enjoyed the first crocus of spring and the same spot will continue to provide beautiful blooms right through the summer.


I hope this helps. Happy planting!


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