Now is the time to start enjoying the milder temperatures and beautiful fall colors while you plant. And, let’s face it. While there are some chores in the landscape that you just dread, there is a certain fall garden activity that doesn’t have to be a chore – fall bulb planting!
Fall is the correct time to plant many bulbs in the home garden, as planting in the fall ensures that the bulb will receive the natural chilling required for proper flowering. Additionally, fall planting allows the bulb to develop a strong root system to support those spring flowers. Daffodils, crocus, hyacinths, and grape hyacinths, all of which bloom in spring, are loved by both beginners and experienced gardeners.
Most bulbs are hardy across Georgia, but it is important to remember that not all bulbs perennialize. In other words, they tend to “fizzle out” after only a few years. Tulips and hyacinths, for example, die out after a very few years because our warm temperatures shorten the length of time foliage remains on the plant. I’m also keenly aware that deer gobble up tulips about as quickly as trick-or-treaters do their Halloween candy.
For those who may be new to planting bulbs, there are a few factors that will impact success. First, I encourage you to read the label and try to keep the label together with the bulbs until planting. Believe me – this suggestion comes from experience! Without the label, you can’t tell which varieties are which just by looking at the bulbs.
You will also want to carefully choose where to plant. You can plant bulbs just about anywhere in your garden, as long as the soil drains well. Bulbs can tolerate a wide range of soil types but they are unforgiving of chronically wet soil conditions. In other words, “bulbs don’t like wet feet.” Avoid areas where water collects, like the bottom of hills. Bulbs like sun, and in many areas, the spring garden can be very sunny since the leaves on the trees are not out yet. So, keep in mind when planting in the fall that you can plant in many places for spring blooms.
Bulbs can also vary tremendously in size and shape. The question everyone asks is, “How deeply should I plant my bulbs?” This will depend on the plant species and bulb size, so follow the recommendation on the label for planting depth. Don’t have a plant label or perhaps you were given bulbs from someone’s garden? That’s ok – as a general rule, one may plant large bulbs about 8″ deep and small bulbs about 5″ deep. Another recommendation is planting at a depth that is about three times the diameter of the bulb.
Ultimately, larger bulbs should be planted more deeply than smaller bulbs. As, if bulbs are planted too deeply, they may “run out of gas” before the developing shoot reaches the surface. When planted too shallow they are more prone to moisture stress and winter injury. Not sure which way is up and which way is down? Set the bulb in the hole pointy side up or the roots down. It’s easy to spot the pointy end of a daffodil, but a little tougher with small, round bulbs like the crocus. If you can’t figure out the top from the bottom, plant the bulb on its side, in most cases, even if you don’t get it right, the flower will still find its way topside.
Spacing bulbs in the landscape varies, and is largely based on the size of the bulb and the desired landscape effect. Small bulbs, like grape hyacinth and crocus, should be planted only about three inches apart while a large daffodil may need a spacing of up to 12 inches. Remember, the closer bulbs are planted, the sooner they will need to be divided. The most stunning effect in the landscape, however, is achieved when bulbs are planted in mass rather than widely scattered across the landscape.
After all of your holes have been dug and the bulbs placed to your liking, back fill with soil over the hole, and lightly compress the soil but do not pack it. Water once to stimulate root growth and to fill any air pockets. There is no need to water continuously. Once you’ve completed this step, relax and try to be patient while you wait for them to bloom next spring!
If you would like more information on bulb planting, stop by the Extension office and pick up a copy of our free bulletin, Flowering Bulbs for Georgia Gardens. Then get outside and enjoy a little fall bulb planting!