home garden planted with bulbs

Plant bulbs now for beautiful spring flowers

By Mary Ann Reese

“Everybody has a green thumb with spring bulbs,” says Susan Bell. “The flower is in there; all you have to do is put it in the ground, provide water, and wait for spring,” adds the 30-year veteran University of Idaho Extension horticulture educator in Ada County.

Time to plant is September, October, November, “anytime before the ground freezes, or even after it freezes,” says Bell, “though digging is harder then.

“The biggest problems,” she adds, are too much water, which causes rot, and squirrels that may dig up bulbs and nibble on them or even replant them elsewhere. The water issue is best solved when you avoid planting bulbs in places that get a lot of water, such as under a downspout or under drippy eaves. Where squirrels are a nuisance, some gardeners protect bulbs by wrapping them in a half-inch mesh wire cages.”

To encourage larger blooms, bulbs could use some phosphorous when planted. For example, bone meal. “But don’t put bone meal in direct contact with the bulb,” cautions Bell. “That could cause rot. Place a half or level whole teaspoon of bone meal in the bulb hole. Add an inch of soil between the bone meal and the base of the bulb, then plant at the recommended depth and cover the bulb with soil.”

For best spring displays, Bell suggests avoiding the line-up of single bulbs like rows of soldiers. Rather, group bulbs in odd numbers—3, 5, 7, etc.—and layer small bulbs above larger bulbs for “a ‘wow’ effect in spring” with several kinds of flowers in the same area. Plant at depths recommended on packages when you buy bulbs.

Bell is part of the UI Extension horticulture team that provides helpful Idaho-specific information for home gardeners on a variety of topics. Their Website—Idaho Landscapes and Gardens—lists 19 spring bulbs that do well in Idaho and offers advice on purchasing bulbs, site selection and preparation, and care and maintenance of bulb flowers.