Friday, November 14, 2014

Bulb Planting Travails

Stupid cheap tools.... This was a straight-handled bulb planter before it collapsed under use. Grrr!

So I finally got nearly all my bulbs into the ground on Sunday and Monday. I always buy more than I should when I go bulb shopping -- the containers look like candy, with their bright, tempting photos of beautiful spring bulbs, and I'm too much like a kid in a candy store. I also ordered a bunch of bulbs online from Van Engelen, the wholesale distributor for John Scheepers (I almost always buy large enough quantities to qualify for the wholesale price).

But then I have to plant them all, and I curse my greediness, often putting off the work so late in the season that I've had to use a pickax to hew a planting hole in the frozen tundra of my flower beds.

This year, I vowed to get ahead by starting earlier. In early October (a good time for planting bulbs here), I planted 550 bulbs of various kinds in my new Yellow Garden: tulips, daffodils, alliums, hyacinths, crocus and winter aconite -- all yellow-colored, of course. I hope the heavy clay soil there won't be too much for them.

And I got 60 Asiatic and Orienpet lilies planted in the North Border, and 60 more tulips in a small bed near my house, in late October.

But that still left a lot of bulbs in my garden shed, and cold weather was fast approaching, so Sunday and Monday I pulled out all the stops:

First, I potted up all the bulbs for forcing: early daffodils and tulips, crocus and a few other early bulbs. This is the first year I've done this, so it's an experiment, the results of which I'll post about here in January and February. I labelled the pots, watered them and put them into the "cave" that I constructed out of straw bales inside our large tractor shed. The bulbs can freeze (after all, they do every winter in the ground), but they shouldn't freeze and thaw repeatedly, so an insulated place is needed to store them. I think the straw cave might work.

My potted-up bulbs for forcing, after being watered.

I put them in the straw bale cave, with the earliest bulbs in front and later ones in back. The plant markers give a date range for them to be brought inside by my husband, and also identify the bulbs in each pot. I heaped leaves on top of the pots and then closed up the front of the cave with one last straw bale. I'll put them under lights in my basement starting after January 1st, when I'll be more than ready to see some colorful flowers.

After I finished with the pots, I planted the rest of the bulbs:

  • 24 Allium 'Globemaster' in the North Border
  • about 50 alliums, hyacinths and Asiatic lilies in the White Beds
  • 250 tulips, alliums and muscari in the Rainbow Border
  • 90 mixed tulips, 45 mixed daffodils and 50 alliums in the Cutting Garden
  • 24 pink, purple and blue hyacinths in the Front Border

Altogether (but not counting the potted ones) I planted about 1,200 bulbs this year (which is actually less than half of the 2,600 I planted last year, to my great suffering). I mostly plant them by digging out an area with a digging shovel, arranging the bulbs right-side-up in the hole, and shoveling the soil back on top. So I certainly didn't have to dig 1,200 individual planting holes (yikes!).

But I did use my old long-handled bulb planter to individually plant the 60 lily bulbs (which need fairly deep planting holes) in the North Border -- and that's when the bulb planter collapsed, bending under the weight of my stomping efforts and causing me to lose my balance. Luckily I was able to catch myself before I ended up flat on my back in the middle of the border, but it certainly took me by surprise. No more cheap tools!

Maybe this is what I need...
The Yard Butler G-BULB Green
Flower Bulb Planter

Has anyone had good luck with a
particular brand of long-handled
bulb planter?

Anyway, I have all but one bag of daffodils planted at this point, and I'm sure I'll have a chance to plant that last bag before the ground freezes. Monday was such a lovely day to work outside -- it was windy, but 65 degrees (F) and sunny; I actually had to take off my fall tweed gardening jacket.

But it's a good thing I took advantage of that lovely weather on Monday, because this was what my Front Border looked like on Tuesday morning, to my (and the weather man's) great surprise:

I sure didn't see this coming, nor did the weather man. This is what my Front Border looked like Tuesday morning, and it hasn't gotten above freezing all week. Gotta love Iowa weather: 65 degrees one day, the high 20 degrees the next day. Brrr!

Yep, winter's definitely here now and it's time to spend some cozy time inside. I hope you're all keeping warm too. Thanks for reading! -Beth


  1. Hi Beth, I am amazed at the number of bulbs you have in your gardens! 2600 last year, and 1200 this year - wow! It will look fantastic come spring. I also planted some Globemaster alliums as well as Christophii alliums this year. I am looking forward to spring. Have a good wknd, Beth!

    1. Hi Beth, I hope our Globemasters look stunning next spring -- it'll give us something to look forward to all during the long winter. Thanks for reading! -Beth

  2. Oh my goodness, that's a lot of bulbs! Makes my mere 400 seem amateurish! I bent a fairly heavy duty hand trowel during my bulb-planting travels this year. I like your hay-bale cave and will look forward to seeing how that works out for you in the spring with the forced bulbs. I need to get mine into pots and stowed away. It is really nice to see them bloom in the house when the ground is still buried under feet of snow! -- Kimberley

    1. *travails* That word was supposed to *travails*, not *travels!*

    2. Kimberley, planting 400 bulbs with a hand trowel is a lot of work, and probably took as long as it did for me to plant my bulbs. I can't wait to see what your (and my) bulbs look like when spring finally arrives. Thanks for reading! -Beth

  3. That's a lot of bulbs to get in the ground and pots and I'm sure you're pleased that the job's done!
    Keep warm my friend now that the cold has set in.

  4. Thanks Linda! It won't be easy to keep warm here these days: it's been ten days of below-freezing temps, but I'll do my best. Thanks for reading, -Beth

  5. I cannot imagine planting so many bulbs, Beth. I can imagine, however, how gorgeous your garden will be next spring! Worth all the effort. Can't wait to see the pics. Keep warm! P. x

    1. Thanks, Pam! I hope you have a warm winter too. Thanks for reading! -Beth

  6. Wow, that is a lot of bulbs! How beautiful that will be in spring! I usually buy too many and have trouble planting them in time, like you. This year I scaled it back a little, though, and actually managed to plant them in just a few days. Of course, I had to take advantage of the clearance bulbs the other day, so I now have a few more to go in the ground! I hope your straw cave works - it looks awesome!

    1. Indie, I'm with you: the sale bulbs are just plain dangerous! You think you have everything under control and then you "accidentally" come home with a bunch more bulbs to plant and even less time to do it before winter comes. Aggh! But I can't wait to see photos of your spring bulbs -- I'm sure they will be beautiful. Thanks for stopping by! -Beth