Gardening: Bulbs require careful planting

October is the bulb-planting month for spring surprises, so think daffodils, tulips, crocus, hyacinths and other early season-flowering beauties.

At Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, Va., there are always new bulbs to celebrate. This year, Becky Heath is particularly hyped about two – Graceland tulip, white with rose flames and inlays, and Art Design daffodil, soft yellows and creams with pinkish-orange overlays.

“Wouldn’t Elvis be proud to have such a beautiful flower named for the home he built for his beloved mother,” she says of the tulip.

“Art Design won the most-popular contest in our trial gardens last year.”

When you plan bulb plantings and shop for bulbs, keep these tips in mind:

Plant above ground. When soil and drainage is bad, consider planting above ground. Put down a healthy layer of compost, place the bulbs on top of the compost and cover with 6 inches of mulch, suggest the Heaths - www.brentandbeckysbulbs .com. They used this method to create “rivers of daffodils” at their teaching gardens in Gloucester.

Bulb expert Hans Langeveld likes the idea of a “raised raised bed” with four legs, a few crossbeams, a base for drainage and a bed to hold soil and plants. He spotted this style bulb planter while visiting Holland last spring. See more of his ideas at www.longfield-gardens.com.>

Trench them in. Planting bulbs one-by-one is time consuming, says Amy Dube with Dig.Drop.Done at wwwdigdropdone.com. Instead of reaching for a bulb planting tool, pick up a shovel. Create a trench seven inches deep (for tulips) and toss in bulbs, making sure they are four inches apart. Don’t worry about getting them placed just so because bulbs know which end is up, and can right themselves if they are planted on their sides or upside down. Shovel the dirt from the trench back over them. A little water and you’re done.

Naturalize them. You get more plants for your gardening dollar when you put in bulbs that return and multiply each year. Naturalized bulbs mean they bloom for years in the same location, according to Dube. The best bulbs for naturalizing include daffodils, crocus, iris and grape hyacinths. As they naturalize, they may be smaller in bloom size but their numbers will make a great impact, she adds.

Mix them up. Create a multi-layered mix of spring bloomers, suggests Langeveld. Mix short and medium-tall varieties with small flowers and taller types with larger flowers. Premix the bulbs in a large tub and plant them together, all at once, in a trench 6-8 inches deep.

If critters browse your bulb garden looking for good snacks, your smartest bulb choice is daffodils because squirrels and deer dislike their taste, Dube said. They also don’t like the gym sock smells of Fritilllari imperalis bulbs; interplant them among other flowers to protect other bulbs. Deer also avoid alliums.

Once you finish planting bulbs, clean up the garden area, recommends Dube. Squirrels always in search of a good meal will recognize clues like bulb debris and head for the spot where you worked. Fresh mulch can also attract them, so wait until after a good fall frost to add that topping.

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