September 2, 2012

Let's face it: when your late summer garden is full of plants, it's hard to tell how many bulbs you'll need let alone where to plant them. It looks like there's little room for anything and unless you've got photos of your spring garden, you may not remember what you had in the spring. In fact even these photos can be surprisingly misleading. After an afternoon's planting last fall I thought I'd finally filled the garden only to discover this spring that there was still plenty of room for more. And what would spring (or summer, or fall) be without bulbs? Here's some tips to help you get the most out of your bulb planting experience.

Dugald Cameron

President & chief bulb fanatic


Maximize the flowers and beauty of your garden by extending the season with bulbs. A lot of these guys bloom before most other garden plants, some as early as March. So consider a selection with different flowering times to get a longer season of bloom.

Bulbs also make excellent flowers for cutting to enjoy indoors or give as gifts. Choose your cutting tulips by colour, picking your colours from one group (eg. Single Late) and selecting similar heights. They'll be more likely to bloom all at once for beautiful full bouquets. You might even consider a separate "cutting garden" if you have the space.

You can grow spring bulbs in pots to enjoy indoors. This process has been given the unfortunate name "forcing" which sounds a bit brutal. A better description would be "fooling" because bulbs don't need to be forced into flowering, they already want to. Click here to read more about this. We've marked the best varieties for indoor "fooling" in the catalogue and on our website.


Bulbs like good drainage. They don't like soggy soil or a waterlogged spot that becomes a skating rink in the winter. They also like sun. An overhead canopy of deciduous trees is also OK because many bulbs grow and flower before the trees leaf out, giving them enough time to store energy for the next spring's bloom. A sandy loam soil with full sun is ideal but they'll also grow just fine in ordinary well-tilled garden soil with decent drainage.

Tulips in particular prefer a full sun location and sharply draining soil. An ideal season for them would be a cool, moist spring followed by a dry, baking hot summer like many of us in central Canada had this summer. After a few years many tulips tend to stop flowering. A deeper planting of 30cm (12") will help them last longer and discourage squirrels. If your bulbs are giving you more foliage than flower then perhaps it's time to replace them.True tulip fanatics just replace their bulbs every couple of years.

Daffodils are perennial, gradually increasing over time. There are gardens of daffodils that have bloomed every year for more than a century. They also rarely become squirrel food, a definite plus.

Bulbs look best planted in clumps and most can be nestled in between other plants. For those of you who already have bulbs in the garden there's the little problem of accidently digging up existing bulbs when planting your new selection. That spring photo can help you locate them, but a customer gave me an even better way to mark your plantings. Just overplant with Muscari armeniacum (Grape Hyacinth) which leaf out in late summer and whose blue or white spring flowers look great with other bulbs.

Bear in mind the flower heights when planning. If admiring the show from a distance you should consider taller varieties with stronger colours. Shorter plants and more demure colours work well along paths or entranceways where you'll see them up close.The flowering time and how long they last depends on the spring weather. Blooms last longer in cool weather and fade quickly in hot.


Once you've decided on the locations for your bulbs, you can use this technique to maximize length of flowering time and impact: by planting small and medium or large bulbs in layers in one spot you can extend the flowering season and they look terrific when flowering together. Larger bulbs like daffodils, hyacinths, Fritillaria, Leucojum or tulips go on the bottom bunk. Cover them with soil to the depth of the top bunk where you can plant your smaller bulbs like Anemone Blanda, Chionodoxa, Crocus, Corydalis, Fritillaria species, Galanthus, Hyacinthoides, Muscari and species tulips.


Many gardens are owned by more than one person: one who gardens and one who mows the lawn. Narcissus are superb in lawns if planted in drifts.

Just don't cut back the ripening foliage too early or you'll sacrifice the next season's flowers. Plant in clumps, leaving enough room between clumps for the "mower", who can be obsessive about the lawn and will thank you for making his/her job easier.

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