“Spring bulbs need fall planting” is not only an old gardener’s saying, but a good reminder. For a beautiful pop of color at the end of winter, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and other spring flowering bulbs must be planted in the fall. Even though air temperatures are lower, the soil is warm, so now is a good time to plant.
A general rule for deciding how deep to plant bulbs is to put them four times the height of the bulb into the soil. This is generally 6 inches deep for tulips, daffodils and large hyacinths and 3 to 4 inches deep for grape hyacinths.
Because bulbs look better massed in groupings than planted one by one, the best way to plant bulbs is to dig an area large enough for a number of bulbs slightly deeper than the recommended planting depth. Add compost, filling up to one-third the volume of the dug-up area, and work it into the soil. Clay soils should be heavily amended to improve drainage and aeration. Mix in a phosphorus fertilizer to feed the roots and give the bulbs a good start. A half-pound of 0-46-0 fertilizer per 100 square feet is a good choice. Or, you can add a 10-10-10 bulb fertilizer according to the label. Bone meal is often recommended for planting bulbs, but Colorado State University research has shown the phosphorus in bone meal is only available to plants in soils with a pH below 7. Most of our soils have a pH above 7.
Tap the soil down gently in the bottom of the dug-up area until you have the right depth for planting. If you line the entire area with wire mesh under, around and over any grouping of tulip or hyacinth bulbs before you bury them, you will prevent ground squirrels from digging them up and eating them. Fortunately, these pests leave daffodils alone, so cages aren’t necessary if you are planting only daffs.
Set the bulbs in place with the growing tip up. The root end is flat with a bit of a callous (root plate), while the growing end is usually pointy. Cover them with the soil/compost/fertilizer mix. Tamp the soil down around the bulbs to remove air pockets. Water the area after planting to further settle the soil. If the winter stays dry, water the bulbs monthly. Then sit back and wait for the spring display.
JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.