“I’m a great fan of guerrilla gardening,” confesses Kate Jerome with a laugh. “One November I planted a bunch of bulbs in my mother-in-law’s yard without her knowing. They came up in May to surprise her for her birthday.”
If you lack a stealth flower planter in your life, fear not, says Jerome, who recently retired from teaching horticulture at a college in Wisconsin and moved to Asheville, where she gardens, cooks and writes about both at katesgardenkitchen.com. Bulbs are generally fun and simple, and the time to get them in the ground is now.
“The whole point of getting them in the ground in the fall is to get that root system started,” she explains. “Anytime the weather starts to cool down consistently is good. Once the bulbs come into contact with the wet soil, they start producing roots, then go dormant for the winter.”
Preparing the soil should be at the top of your bulb-planting to-do list. “It’s hard work if you have red clay, like so many yards in this area,” Jerome says. “Decide where to plant, maybe a 4-foot circle where you want a nice display. Dig down about 6 inches, putting your soil in your wheelbarrow. Bulbs need to be planted about three times the diameter of the bulb, so a 2-inch diameter bulb should be planted 6 inches deep — pointed end up; don’t make them struggle!”
Compost or organic lawn and garden soil can be mixed with the soil that’s been dug out and all placed together back in the hole, she continues. The spot should been be watered and topped with some kind of organic mulch. “Shredded leaves from the yard are my favorite because we have so many of them,” she says.
Most bulbs don’t need a lot of fertilizer, says Chris Davenport of Reems Creek Nursery. So when planting, he may add a half-teaspoon of bone meal per bulb, then again in later winter and early spring when the green shoots emerge. Small or minor bulbs such as crocus are early bloomers and bring that first welcome burst of color to a dreary winter landscape; larger, taller daffodils and tulips emerge later.
“I’m a lazy gardener,” admits Davenport. “If I’ve gone to the effort to dig a hole for my daffodils, I’ll plop in three of the minor bulbs, too.”
With few exceptions, he adds, bulbs do best in a sunny spot, for blooming and perennializing. “You want adequate sun so that the foliage around the flower will work with the sun and photosynthesize that bulb for next year.” he says.
The key to having your bulbs bloom again is to resist discarding the foliage after the flower has passed on. “It’s tempting to cut it back then,” Jerome says. “But don’t do it! I like to plant my bulbs in other perennials that come up later and hide the foliage until it turns yellow and I can cut it back. Patience is key to gardening.”