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Avoiding Problems with Spring Bulbs

Avoiding Problems with Spring Bulbs

May 18, 2015


Spring flowering bulbs are some of the easiest flowers to grow. You start with some lumpy bulbs that doesn’t show much promise, exercise a good amount of patience throughout the fall and winter and are rewarded with a much needed explosion of spring joyfulness. That’s the theory and it usually plays out. But there are a few pitfalls to avoid and they start at planting time.

Buy Good Quality Bulbs

Bulb prices go from amazingly cheap to off putting expensive.

You don’t need to pay top dollar to get healthy bulbs, unless you are going for something rare and exotic. But don’t fall prey to those large bags of bulbs for a fraction of a penny a piece.

Bulbs are graded by size. The larger the bulb, the better the vigor of the plant. That means it will emerge earlier, grow more robustly and flower larger and often more profusely.

Finally, look the bulbs over well. They should be firm and unbroken. Don’t buy bulbs with signs of mold, scabs or soft spots.

Chose a Good Site

If the bulbs you are planting need partial shade or sun, make certain they will have it at the time of year you are planting. Remember, most spring bulbs bloom before tree fully leaf out and full sun is in great abundance. If you have a warm spring, your bulbs won’t last long in full sun.


As important as sun exposure, is soil drainage. Bulbs go dormant during the summer. While dormant, they should not be sitting in soggy soil. That’s a sure road to rot. This can also happen to bulbs inter-planted in beds with later blooming perennials that need a lot of water.


You may think the bulbs have disappeared and you are just caring for the perennials, but the bulbs are still sleeping in that soggy soil.

Don’t Rush Planting

Garden centers start selling bulbs in August, but no one should be planting then. Ideally, you should plant your bulbs about 4 - 6 weeks before the ground freezes, to give them time to get established. Who knows when that might be? Do your best to judge, but don’t be in a rush to get it done early. If it is too warm out, the bulbs will sprout and waste precious stored energy they will need next spring. Better to plant late, than too early. As long as you can dig a hole, you can plant your bulbs.

Plant Deep

Pay attention to the planting directions on the package. In general, most bulbs need to be planted at least 3 times their diameter. Bulbs can live for years and they need to make it through all kinds of conditions, from deep freezes to prolonged drought. Take the time to dig a decent hole to get them started right.

Give Them a Last Supper

Before leaving your bulbs to do their thing, give them a bit of bulb food or bone meal and a deep dose of water. This will tell them it’s time to start setting down roots, to honker in for the winter.

Protect Them

Two culprits can thwart your best attempts to grow spring flowering bulbs.

1. Pests: By far, the worst problem you will encounter is four-footed pests. Some will lift the bulbs out of the soil and others will wait for them to sprout and devour them. Depending on the severity of your problem, you may have to take stronger measures, but 2 things that have worked for me are:

Sprinkling blood meal in the planting hole and on the soil surface. Most of these pests are herbivores and are put off by the scent of blood. Some gardeners toss a handful of gravel in the planting holes, which deters some of the digging, but I’ve had better luck with blood meal. Of course, it needs to be reapplied periodically.

Lay a section of wire fencing over the newly planted area. They don’t like walking on the fencing and they can’t dig through it. You can remove it in spring or just let your plants grow through it, depending on how small the openings are.

2. Thawing: Winter temperatures can fluctuate all season, causing the ground to repeatedly freeze and thaw. If the thaw lasts long enough, your bulbs will start to sprout and maybe even start to set flowers.  January thaw’s are notorious for confusing plants. To prevent this, add a layer of mulch above the bulbs, after the ground has frozen. Winter mulching is intended to keep the cold underground and keep the soil frozen.

These are all easy things to do and you only have to do them once each year. What other plants are so undemanding? Planting bulbs in the fall takes a bit of faith, but you can hedge your bets by starting them off right.


Article reposted from

Category: Knowledge Center

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