Not bothering with clean-up, either; I’m too busy planting

These Narcissus jonquilla var. henriquesii Twinkling Yellow are my new favorites among the miniatures.

The last shipment of bulbs has finally arrived and I made a Halloween resolution to lie about my zone when I order next year. It’s not that I think it’s too late to plant them; it’s just a little more pleasant to plant in warmer temps. John Scheepers and Brent & Becky’s think I should plant in November; I’d rather plant in October. It’s that simple. They might be right, but it really doesn’t matter. Bulbs are easy and most of the things people think must or must not be done with them are nonissues.

-Fertilization. Never use it, ever. I do throw compost over them, but that’s only because I probably didn’t plant them deep enough and it’s easier to build up than dig down. Unless soil testing has demonstrated a lack, why bother with stinky bone meal?

-Timing. Best to plant when you get them, but if you can get a shovel in, plant them then. It’s never too late, right through midwinter.

-Spacing. Here’s where many might disagree, but I feel these look better in big, dense plantings, especially hybrids. The small species tulips and other diminutive bulbs look okay in smaller clumps. In any case, there is no way I am worrying about bulb spacing.

-Return. I do not expect most hybrid tulips to return, and I’m fine with that. I use them in pots or in big groups that are replaced each year. Bad things can happen to any type of bulb, so I replant some quantity of the types I like every year.

Does size matter? Apparently, it does with bulbs. The one on the right is from a local big box.

However, some things do count, and the most important of these is bulb quality. I have found that “topsize” is not just a marketing term; the bulbs I get from the mail order houses I use are significantly larger than what I see in big box stores. I can’t speak for poorly rated mail order houses because I’ve never ordered from them. The Garden Watchdog site (hosted by Dave’s Garden) has its flaws, like most crowd-sourced ratings sites, but is reliable on the whole.

Another reason to use the houses I use is that they have a wide range of species tulips and miniature daffodils; these wildflower-looking varieties are best for naturalizing in my garden (in as much as any bulb will).

I think we often expect too much out of plants. For the shout of color, beauty, and renewal that spring-blooming bulbs provide, I don’t feel as though I need them to last longer than a few seasons. When they do, I’m pleasantly surprised.

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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


  1. Elizabeth, thank you for highlighting one of my gripes about mail order nurseries. I live in Maine and have had bulbs and plants mailed after the ground is frozen, or weather conditions too raw to tolerate. I usually send orders with a note in the comment section asking for a particular shipping date but to no avail. It seems that everyone is an expert about my gardening zone, rather than respecting the knowledge and skill I have as a gardener. If I order and pay for a plant or bulb then I want it now, and I will be responsible for the current weather conditions in my own way. Keep ranting and writing.

  2. I’m with you on the zone issue, Elizabeth. Like Paula, I request specific dates. Contrary to what the revised zone map says, being 40 miles inland from Lake Ontario, I consider myself 5b at most, not 6. Alas, they rarely listen – and I’m out on chilly days planting, when I’d rather be inside with a nice cup of tea. And as far as feeding, I recommend Espoma Bulb-Tone. Organic, not smelly at all.

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