Bulbs – something old, something new

At this time of year, you often see creatures bottoms up, digging in the ground, frantically burying things. I’m talking about gardeners. (Hah! Bet you thought I was referring to squirrels – which do act in much the same way.)

Fall, of course, is prime time for planting bulbs that will flower in the first chilly days of spring. October is the ideal month to get them in the ground, before November’s nastiness hits.

Antoinette tulips and dramatic alliums grow in Beacher Lucille Crighton’s garden. PHOTO: Lucille Crighton
Antoinette tulips and dramatic alliums grow in Beacher Lucille Crighton’s garden.
PHOTO: Lucille Crighton

First, a quick refresher on some bulb basics. You can skip to the next section if you’re up to date on the fine points of bulb planting.

Flower bulb basics

Planting bulbs isn’t complicated. Dig a hole, drop ’em in and cover ’em up. Some insider tips, though, can make your dig more successful.

  • In city gardens like ours, plant bulbs more closely together than suggested on the package. They’ll come up in pretty bunches that stand out in a small garden.
  • Dig one biggish hole and plant several bulbs in it, rather than one hole per bulb. It’s less work, and you can space your bulbs just a few inches apart to get that bunching effect in spring.
  • For larger bulbs, dig the hole at least three times as deep as the bulb’s height – a 9-inch hole for a bulb 3 inches tall. Plant small bulbs like crocus at least 3 inches deep so they can avoid becoming squirrel food.
  • Forget about adding bone meal to the holes. That old practice is useless. Newly planted bulbs are conveniently programmed by nature to grow roots in the cold months, then come up and bloom when the soil starts to warm.
  • Plant them pointy end up (but you already knew that, didn’t you?).

New ways with bulbs

Like other flowers, new varieties of bulbs come out every year. If you’re interested, have a look online at sites like Botanus and Veseys.

If you’re after more than novelty, scented tulips and daffodils (narcissus) seem to be more widely available now. These are wonderful to plant by doorways, porches, patios and decks. Their scent is especially welcome in the cold spring air. Hyacinths, of course, take the prize for scented spring flowers, but I find their heavy perfume a little overpowering. They also have an annoying habit of falling over because of their top-heavy blooms.

Bulbs for the kids

If your kids loved summer gardening, you can build on that by having fun with your spring-flowering bulbs. Some look just plain funny. ‘Rip van Winkle’ daffodil has skinny petals sticking out all over the flower, “like a bad hair day,” as one catalogue describes it. The hoop petticoat daffodil (‘Golden Bells’) has a bell-shaped flower that resembles a fairy dressed in gold silk, hanging on sideways to the stem. And don’t miss the “ice cream tulip” that, in its early stages, looks for all the world like a vanilla and strawberry ice cream cone.

Lots of bulbs have fun names, too. ‘Mickey Mouse’ is a lovely red- and gold-splashed tulip that I’ll be planting this year just for its colours. If your kid’s a real fan, you can get a ‘Disneyland’ tulip to go along with it. For lovers of fairy tales, put in some ‘Red Riding Hood’ tulips, too. For an aspiring figure skater you could plant some ‘Ice Follies’ white daffodils.

Depending on your children’s names, you might even find a flower bulb to match. Some I’ve run across include Margaret, Irene, Angelique, Abigail, Antoinette, Diana, Claudia, Shirley, Michael and Alfred.

Finally, try some alliums in your garden. You’ll enjoy their spiky, globe-shaped flowers, usually a dramatic purple, on stems that grow nearly a yard high. For imaginative kids, they’re aliens or space ships or maybe magic wands. Bonus: their slight oniony smell keeps squirrels away from any flowers near them.

The one drawback to bulbs for kids is that it will be months until they flower. Save pictures and make a scrapbook of the ones you plant, so your little ones remember what they have to look forward to.

Note: Remember, daffodils are poisonous, so make sure children understand they’re not for eating.

 

Mary Fran McQuade is a local writer specializing in gardening and lifestyle


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