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For gardeners in areas where the weather has cooled, it’s time to plant bulbs for spring tulips and daffodils. Bulbs are nature’s perfect packages, having all they need to grow inside their compact, convenient forms. They just require a bright, sunny location and a little soil preparation. For tips on creating the showiest display, I spoke to Rodney Eason, the Display Division Leader at Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA.
The best blooms start with loose soil and a few inches of well-aged compost mixed in. The beds at Longwood Gardens are well maintained and don’t need fertilizer, but home gardeners might want to pH test their soil to make sure it doesn’t need amending. Your local botanical garden extension, nursery or garden center can help.
Break-up the soil and mix in compost with a till or a garden fork. Then take a trowel (try one with the measurements already marked on it) to lever the soil and slide the bulb into the ground, pointed tip up.
Tulips and daffodils should go in six inches deep and six inches apart. Eason suggests staggering rows of bulbs to give a fuller look to the bed (that means the second row’s bulbs are behind and in between those in the first row, but still six inches apart).
Remember to examine the bulbs before tucking them in—don’t bother using those that are dried out, or that feel squishy. You can plant through the last week of November, although some gardeners don’t stop until the ground is completely frozen.
If you fear squirrels and deer, which like to undo all your hard work, stick to daffodils, since they don’t incite the taste buds of critters the way tulips do. Or lay down a thin gauge of plastic ½” square mesh (held in with turf staples) to prevent your bulbs from becoming a snack. Just make sure to remove the mesh once the foliage reaches 2” tall in the spring.
Eason suggests these two bulbs to add some variation from the typical tulips and daffodils: Eremurus (Foxtail Lily) whose big spikes of yellow flowers make a splash in the spring, and Fritillaria imperialis (Crown Imperial) whose unusual hanging blooms appear in May.
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