Bulbs are no big deal



There has been a lot of bulb buzz throughout the garden blogosphere over the past month or so. I’ve seen worrying, lamenting, ridiculous hyperbole (from me), excellent advice, and step-by-step documentation. Well, today, I finally did get about 175 of my bulbs in. It took about an hour and a half. I planted hybrid tulips, species tulips, erythronium, and scilla. This is how I do the hybrids. I dig a big hole, about 6-8 inches deep and I throw them in. Then I throw dirt on top. I put 50 in each hole.


For the species, erythronium, and scilla, which I expect to perennialize, I stick a small shovel in the ground and wiggle it bath and forth. Then I throw 3-4 of the tiny bulbs in the resulting hole. These tiny flowers need to be in groups to be noticed. I feel all tulips need to be in large quantities and closely packed for the best effect. Subtlety is not a goal. I also try to be as random as possible when planting these.

So those of you who will be receiving bulbs from me this week (I just sent them) so late in the season, don’t sweat it. Throw them in a hole, cover them, and get ready to astound your neighbors in the spring.

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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 regular 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 yahoo.com


  1. The previous owner of our house apparently had the notion that a solo tulip is a gracious addition to a garden. Every spring these poor singletons pop up here and there. No daffodils, no crocus, no snowdrops, just the occasional “Passionale.” Looks pathetic.

    I tend to obsess over spacing with species bulbs, but that’s because I expect them to multiply and I don’t want to have to dig them up and divide them. Ever.

  2. Indeed you do make it look easy. In future I will not be reading the packet and carefully spaceing the darn things, I will be planting them the Elizabeth way and will probably get a much better show. Whoopee.

  3. Whoopee indeed! If it weren’t for the squirrels and rabbits, I’d be tempted to try some tulips. Maybe next year.

  4. I also practice the “big hole” method. Yesterday, I managed to plant a couple hundred tulips and daffodils that way. Now it is on to the smaller, minor bulbs. I’ll use an electric drill and spade bit to plant those.

  5. I use a bulb auger + drill for tight spaces. Otherwise, it’s shovel away a pile of dirt, erm, excuse me, soil, and then I do plant them all right side up (but not after this post), and cover w/ compost-amended dirt/soil. For little bulbs, like onions or ipheion or muscari, I just use my fingers.

  6. Marte,

    Squirrels and rabbits can be foiled, and not with great difficulty. Some coarse wire fencing laid over the ground after planting and then some organic repellent in the spring.

  7. I always believed that tulips were supposed to turn into perennials, but it looks a lot more fun to treat them like annuals.

    I’ll try the “Big Hole” method for the first time this fall.

  8. 50 hybrid tulips in one hole? I bought just 50 for a whole border, so now I’m thinking I should have bought about 300. E, I think you’ve invented a whole new concept in tulip design!

  9. You do make it look very easy, Elizabeth. My problem is, where to put a big hole full of 50 bulbs. My garden is pretty well packed with perennials. Do you keep an area of your garden clear for annual displays?

  10. Yes, these are great areas to then plant annuals, or tender perennials like dahlias, canna, or elephant ear which in our climate have to be taken in.This year, I used really tall palms, (will tolerate shade) surrounded by impatiens. I love annuals and welcome the opportunity to use them anywhere. There are great varieties now.

    Since the tulips don’t need to die back, I can plant the annuals at the perfect time.

    The hole is not all that big either. One big palm pretty much filled it.

  11. I, too, am impressed with the Elizabeth method. I agree with the tight spacing and the clumping, but I put 5 hybrid tulips to a hole, not 50! And I think they make a pretty spectacular show, but possibly I need to rethink. Especially since 350 tulips translates to 70 holes in my plan–a mere 7 in yours.

  12. Now I am worried. I got varmints. I saw burrows recently in the former roadside vegetable garden (now frozen) and my new bed along the drive. There were strange holes in the ground by my newly planted Eremurus, Foxtail Lilies.

    Maybe bulbs should be planted like lawn grass seed, enough for the birds and a lawn.

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