Some of us have spent our adult lives studying and perfecting the skills of master gardening, or have even practiced horticulture at an academic level. Some of us, on the other hand, only started gardening a decade or so ago and have to fit gardening in around a busy work/social/volunteering schedule. I belong to the latter group.
As part of that group, as much as I’d like to do things the right way, the way that ensures the best results in the long run, and will be of most benefit to plants and soil, I seldom do. If there was a slow gardening movement—like slow food—I wouldn’t belong to it. I have evolved cheap and sleazy shortcuts for almost everything I do in the garden, and it is at this time of year that my ingenuity is taxed to its limit.
So here they are: the fast and dirty (always dirty) bits of bulb wisdom that a person who plants 621 has to know.
The tools they sell for bulb planting suck. Don’t even bother with the silly long or short-handled bulb planters. A big or small shovel is fine, and even better in difficult situations is the Cobrahead tool. This is perfect for planting small species tulips bulbs in root-filled areas. It’s almost as precise as I imagine a drill would be. I don’t use drills by the way, because I never plant just 1 bulb in a hole. Too slow. In fact, most bulb tools assume you are just planting 1 in each hole, which makes no sense to me. I don’t have the space or the time.
Why plant just a few bulbs when you can dig a big hole or a big trench and throw 50 in? Or a medium size hole that can take 5-10. Bulbs look better in groupings, always. Big hybrid or small ephemeral, a measly sprinkling of bulbs is just that—measly.
I don’t insist that all my bulbs be there for the ages. It’s fine with me if they last just a season or two, and I use many hybrid tulips as annuals in containers. Species tulips can perennialize, but when it comes to big hybrids, I would get bored looking at the same colors ever year, so it’s just as well that they often don’t come back.
Where I do not economize is in the area of bulb quality. You get more interesting varieties and bigger bulbs from places like Old House Gardens, Brent and Beckys, and The Lily Garden—and with bulbs, size really does matter.
To prevent creature damage, in areas where the fresh dirt is a giveaway, I place reusable plastic mesh over the soil, held down by U-shaped hooks. As for fertilizer, I never bother. It's truly a waste of time and money.
Finally, though it should be obvious by now, I don’t think design or color planning is really the important thing when it comes to bulbs. Plant a lot. It will look good.