Still planting bulbs? Go for it!



Word is coming in slowly from the edges of the late-fall-bulb-planting frontiers. A few weeks ago, I dared fellow gardeners to plant their tulips bulbs not only well past the recommended time, but also to throw them all in big holes. The heck with all that fussy spacing. And I added the incentive of sending them free bulbs with which to experiment (all gone, sorry).

One of the recipients, Peter Hoh, has reported in:

We had our first hard frost November 7. Already, the top inch of soil is pretty much frozen solid. 
I’ll blame Elizabeth for leading me astray. She assured me that it was not too late, and she encouraged me to consider the Big Hole method of putting them in the ground. 
So here they are.


The pressure! And here’s Christopher C.:

When you are gardening in the wild it is pointless to try and win the battle with the varmints like voles, chipmunks and squirrels who find tulip bulbs to be tasty morsels. Even viewed as an inexpensive annual chances are good you will never see the tulips come spring.
These tulips were a gift so I had to make an effort. I planted them surrounded by what looked to be some left over deer netting.


Oh dear! I have faith in these bulbs though, and I am looking forward to seeing images of the results next spring. I must add that both these guys planted their bulbs WAY more tidily than I’ve ever done. Is it a gender thing? Or am I just a slob? Don’t answer that.

Images courtesy of Peter Hoh (first two) and Chris C. (final image)

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I planted mine yesterday! Thank you again! Mine went into 2 holes, one on either side of the walkway to my front porch. I almost emailed you to ask which ones you had mailed me since I told you I’d take either, but then I decided I’d rather be surprised!

    My ground wasnt frozen!

  2. Got some more of my bulbs in yesterday (about 6 dozen tulips) but then the drownpour started. It’s supposed to stay mild and stop raining, so the rest of the bulbs MIGHT get in this week. Or might not. They’re doing fine in their cool closet away from fruit, but I want to get the closet cleaned out so I can store Christmas presents in it. Ouch–can’t believe I said the C word!

  3. Another batch of Narcissus bulbs arrived from a kind generous soul so I have more to plant. What is the definition of “To Late”?

    From a little looking it seems like frozen ground means the absolute end of bulb planting. I suppose you want to give them a few weeks of root growth before that happens?

  4. I’ve had great luck putting in tulip bulbs right up until the point that the soil gets crunchy. If I plant at that half-frozen point, I find I lose most of my bulbs. Although that may be because it’s harder to really cover those bulbs completely with the stiff clumps of soil, so the squirrels get them.

    That said, it’s all great exercise and bulbs are relatively cheap. So anybody who is still working away at making things beautiful for the spring–hats off to them!

  5. I got the last of my Tulips, Alliums and Ixiolirion planted yesterday. The soil wasn’t frozen…YET. I don’t do big holes crammed full of bulbs–I have containers I use for that instead. I use the faux-terracotta styrofoam insulated kind, the larger the better (minimum size 5 gal.), and have good success with that in my Zone 7 climate.

    All of yesterday’s bulbs went in the ground, though, interspersed among assorted perennials and shrubs and a lot of rocks. I use a drain/ditch spade (the narrow, long type) to plant, jamming the spade into the ground with several judicious stomps, rocking the spade back and forth to open a small pocket, and then jamming a few bulbs in each hole before closing it again. I suppose this isn’t a method for the faint of heart or body–I’ve broken steel shanks in my boots, broken one spade (in my gardening lifetime), and bruised the tar out of my knuckles ramming the bulbs in. Ah, well…as I limp around after a good day of planting, I smile and think of my fellow gardening friend Yulia, who declared gardening the ultimate extreme sport.

  6. I’m happy to say that as of last night, ALL my bulbs are IN THE GROUND!! I nearly froze my patootie and my patties off doing it and then of course there was that little run-in with the willow tree while putting in tulips that Some Kind Soul (wink) sent me. (

    The ipheons were laid in and spread out over the big hole I dug. It was just too darn cold to waste time making sure the little things were pointy side up, so they got laid on their sides. I’ll bet they come up just fine. 🙂

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