by Elena Freeman
A few weeks ago, this blog mentioned that now is a great time for planting spring-flowering bulbs. By request, here is some more information on planting and protecting your bulbs.
Bulbs look best planted in clumps or drifts. To create a natural-looking effect, toss handfuls of bulbs into the air, then dig holes and plant wherever they fall. (Here’s a handy website for figuring out quantities and spacing when planting different bulbs.) Add some compost or worm castings to amend the soil, and mix some bone meal into the soil at the bottom of each hole to encourage strong root growth.
To plant in an area that has dried out over summer (especially difficult with our local clay soils), wet the soil slowly and let it percolate so you can get a shovel or tiller in. Don’t try to work clay soil if it’s too wet or you can end up creating lumps that dry into hard clods. Cultivate the soil adding generous amounts of organic matter such as compost, manure, guano or worm castings to improve the soil structure and nutrients.
If you have a problem with gophers or other rodents eating your bulbs, you can try sprinkling some red pepper powder in the planting hole. A more secure method is to plant your bulbs in a cage made of hardware cloth. The roots and stems grow through, but the rodents can’t get to the bulbs. You can create larger cages to accommodate multiple bulbs. Most rodents avoid daffodils and fritillaria.
Now that you have protected the underground portion of the bulbs, you’ll want to protect the leaves and flowers from the other great garden predator: deer. Alliums (ornamental onions) are some of the most deer-resistant flowering bulbs. Other supposedly “deer-resistant” bulbs are Dutch iris, dwarf iris, crocus, daffodils, early stardrift, glory of the snow, and society garlic.
One of my favorite bulbs is the native Pacific Coast iris and the fabulous hybrids that come in myriad colors. For more information, check out the Society for Pacific Coast Native Iris at pacificcoastiris.org.
Planting something now that doesn’t bloom for half a year is definitely delayed gratification, but when those bulbs you almost forgot you planted are in full bloom in the spring, it’s a big beautiful payoff.