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.
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.