In October, everyone has fall on their minds. But as with so many things in gardening, the current season sets the stage for a following season.

More to the point, now, in fall, before the ground freezes, is time to prepare for spring by planting spring-flowering bulbs. So in between putting garden beds to sleep, turning over ground, raking leaves and all the other fall chores, try to set aside some time to plant spring-flowering bulbs.

This streamside makes a perfect place for spring-flowering bulbs. Tom Seymour

Spring-flowering bulbs have so many benefits. They can go next to mid-season perennials, since they will be done blooming and will have partially faded away before other perennials begin to grow. They fill in voids and give color and form at a time when the landscape is an otherwise drab-brown. And finally, spring-flowering bulbs multiply on their own. As with other hardy perennials, you needn’t plant them every year.

In time, and I mean years down the road, spring-flowering bulbs can play out and you will need to add new blood, in the form of more bulbs, to keep your springtime garden looking full. Some bulbs are longer-lasting than others. Daffodils, and narcissus only get better over time, but it pays, after a few years, to divide them. That way, you get more beautiful flowers for free. Hyacinths, with the exception of grape hyacinths, don’t last for very long in Maine. The same goes for tulips. I treat both hyacinths and tulips as annuals, though they are indeed perennials.

Crocus last for many years, but it pays to fill in any blank spots with new bulbs. To know where to plant in fall, go in spring and insert popsicle sticks or other inconspicuous markers anywhere that could use some new life. Or you might just take a photo of your bed and consult that when planting time rolls around.

New Beds

Having sold my old house and moved to a new town last year, it is now necessary for me to plant spring-flowering bulbs at my new place. It’s one thing to divide established perennials when you move, but it is quite another to dig up spring-flowering bulbs. There are some things you just don’t do.

My new place has a few advantages as per spring-flowering bulbs. It has both sun and semi-sun. In early spring, a line of trees along a little stream that borders my lawn, has forget-me-nots here and there along its length. It seems a perfect place to add some daffodils. While not quite a woodland garden, it’s the next best thing to it, and daffodils do well in a woodland setting, where the early spring sun isn’t yet blocked by leaves on deciduous trees.

Daffodils brighten the darkest of days. Tom Seymour

I’m also putting crocus and grape hyacinth along one side of my foundation. It gets plenty of light in spring and these bulbs should greatly enliven the overall appearance of the place.

Since I bought a sizeable collection of spring-flowering bulbs, there should be some left over after planting the designated areas, so it will be fun to see where I can plug a few in here and there. That’s another nice thing about spring-flowering bulbs. They go well almost anywhere. And if you plant some of the earliest-blooming bulbs such as crocus and snowdrops, you can even put them on the lawn because they will be long gone by the time the grass gets tall enough to mow.

Local or Mail-Order

Were I on the ball, I would have bought my spring-flowering bulbs from the mail-order catalogues. These often have great deals, and you can buy lots of bulbs for low prices. Besides that, the catalogues usually offer a better variety than other places.

But having procrastinated, I consider myself fortunate to have found some good collections locally. I didn’t get everything on my wish list, but enough for a good start.

Regarding the actual planting of your bulbs, here are a few tips that should be of help.

First, no matter what kind of bulb, plant the blunt end down. Some bulbs will have rudimentary, dried-up roots and they serve as a fail-safe indication of which side to plop down in the hole. Lacking these, just plant blunt-side down and you’ll be fine.

Next, many writers suggest adding bone meal to the planting hole. Well, bone meal makes a wonderful skunk attractor and if you use it, chances are a skunk will dig your bulbs up to get at the meal.

So instead, buy some pelletized bulb food that you just sprinkle on the ground. Rain and snowmelt will send the nutrition down where it belongs.

Winter is coming and the door is closing on planting your bulbs, so do make it a point to get out there now and plant. You’ll be rewarded for years to come.

Tom Seymour of Frankfort is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, Registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist and book author.

filed under: