Bulbs are amazing; an entire plant, contained in a neat little package, that grows and thrives all season, and returns to the same neat package for the next year.
Here in the northeast, we commonly have spring and summer blooming bulbs, each of which require special conditions and care. Some of the plants discussed here are not technically bulbs; some are corms, or rhizomes, but the theory and practice of caring for them are the same.
To get any sort of flowering from spring-blooming bulbs, you must plant them in the fall. They require a period of cold dormancy to stimulate root development. Time of first frost helps determine when bulbs should be planted, but it is safe to put them in the ground as long as you are able to dig. In Maine, we recommend planting them by the end of September or middle of October. When the weather warms in spring, the first thing that happens is rootgrowth, long before we see any sort of green spikes poking out of the ground. Daffodils, crocus, snowdrops, and hyacinths are simply a delight to behold
Summer bulbs give way to big, showy displays of bloom. These plants can be planted in early spring, once the ground has warmed. The sooner they are stuck in the ground, the more time they will have to develop through the spring and reward you with blossoms in the summer! Occasionally blooms will not appear the first year; some plants need time to establish and store energy when placed in a new location. Always make sure to read the packaging or ask your local Garden Center associate before you plant, as many of our summer-flowering bulbs and roots are not cold hardy; they need to be ‘lifted’ and stored in the fall. After the foliage has died back, and before the ground has started to freeze, the bulbs need to be dug, cleaned, and stored in a cool, dry place. Gladiolus, Dahlia, and Cannas are three popular, but tender summer-blooming flowers that require this extra step.
Planting bulbs is fairly straightforward. They can be planted in neat rows (for a formal setting) or clusters (more natural looking). Size of the bulb itself is often indicitave of how deeply it should be planted; typically 2 to 3 times the height of the bulb is a safe estimate (if the bulb is 1″ tall, it should be buried 2 or 3″ deep). Looking at the bulb itself, you should be able to tell which end had roots coming out of it last year. Set this end downward in the hole, and have the pointed end facing skyward. It can be somewhat more difficult to tell which end is up with corms or rhizomes, but when in doubt, look for a little pointed “bud”, and plant it so that is facing upright.
Fertilizer is helpful; Bonemeal at the time of planting will aid in strong root development. A slow-release fertilizer applied when the first greens have emerged will provide energy throughout the growing season. A quick-release, liquid fertilizer should be applied after flowering has finished, as many of these can be absorbed through the foliage and will quickly replenish nutrients. Most bulbs (especially tulips) will rot in standing water, so it is very important to plant them in a spot with good drainage. Narcissus (Daffodils) are somewhat more tolerant of wet feet.