Dutch gardeners, a practical and sober bunch, have developed a simple way to create a new bed for tulips or any other spring-flowering bulb.
First, mark the area with wooden stakes driven into the ground and a garden hose around the stakes, the better to see what the bed might look like in relation to the rest of the yard.
After location, shape and size are determined, put down a tarp or some other sheet of plastic right next to the future flower bed. Dig up the ground to a depth of at least 8 inches, throwing the soil on the plastic. Remove all plant residues, stones, branches and debris, such as bottle caps and broken toys.
Break up clods on the plastic and add a few bags of topsoil, compost or leaf mold. Mix it all up with a shovel.
If the soil is compacted, add more leaf mold. You can’t go wrong in adding more fine soil, so err on the side of enrichment.
If the bed previously was covered with grass plants or weeds, make sure to toss them, along with their whole root systems, to another sheet of plastic and eventually dump them in a compost pile. (If you don’t have a compost pile, such a biomass gives a good start for one.)
Next, dig the bottom of the area you carved out a few inches farther down and break up the clods. If you run into large rocks or shale, get rid of as much as possible. Large rocks may be pried out and rolled to the side, and shale needs to be broken up.
Otherwise, water will not run through, creating puddles that may rot the bulbs. Scatter 2 inches of fine topsoil, mature compost or well-rotted leaf mold on top and work it into the soil.
Rake the bed smooth and reasonably level.
Now comes the most pleasurable part: Plant the bulbs, with their tips pointing to the sky and their flat part, which usually shows some roots, resting comfortably on the soft ground. It is important that the soil under the bulbs be loose and easy for the roots to penetrate.
If you plant only tulips, the larger bulbs should be set a little deeper than smaller ones. If you plant other bulbs as well, you may cover the largest bulbs with an inch or two of the soil already prepared and waiting on the sheet of plastic.
Then plant the smaller bulbs, not right above the larger bulbs but between them.
For guidance on depths and spacing of bulbs, observe the recommendations specified in the instructions that come with the bulbs. If there are no instructions, ask for them in the store or find them in a book.
If you are uncertain about planting depths, don’t worry about setting the bulbs slightly deeper, say a little less than an inch.
If the soil is rich and loose, there should be no problem. In fact, the plants may multiply faster.
Tulips are less likely to disappear after one year if they are set a little deeper than recommended, as long as the soil is not clay but significantly improved.
Shovel back the soil that earlier was dug up and lightened, but do not go beyond the original soil level. A light raking should help level the ground.
Water the area generously with a sprinkler. If there is settlement in a few weeks, scatter more soil on the top.
An even better idea is to spread mulch on top.
Mulch will help keep the soil from drying out and will suppress weeds. It also will help reduce temperature fluctuations.
If the fall turns out to be dry, another generous watering is called for before the first serious frost.
Remember, bulbs are not dormant until soil freezes solid; they are establishing themselves by spreading their roots, and cool soil temperatures encourage root growth.
Then comes the big chill, which is indispensable for lovely blooms in the spring.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.