Bulbs 101: A Primer for Your Palette

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Illustration by Adrienne Wright

 

Gardening is having a moment. All summer long, Instagram was filled with outstretched palms full of tomatoes, and announcements of each day’s harvest. It’s no wonder: Gardening is a well-documented booster of mood and a mental balm, and while the vegetable growing season may be winding down, home gardeners can now turn their attention to the double-gratification of planting bulbs.

“Bulbs are easy to work with because they are tough,” says Adrienne Wright, professor of design at the University of Central Oklahoma, who holds an undergraduate degree in landscape design. “Throw them into your garden and don’t overwater them. They’re a great way to add color; you can plant a range to get color for most of the seasons. I’m surprised more people don’t do more with bulbs.” Wright’s career highlights include working as a project lead for a large landscape architecture firm, designing everything from large streetscapes to small residential projects. She continues to create garden designs for a handful of clients each season. 

There are two optimal bulb-planting times a year, fall and spring. “For fall planting, when the daytime temps average 75 degrees, you can plant. Some will wait to plant until January or February, but that’s not enough lead time,” she says.   

Wright suggests starting with “staple bulbs” such as crocus, daffodil, tulip, hyacinth and early snowdrop, and doing a dab of prep work. “Bulbs need drainage — they can’t be put in a spot that holds water, because they’ll rot.” She suggests you amend your soil, which really just means to add some compost and mix it all up to a depth of eight to 12 inches. “Cotton burr compost will help neutralize clay and make the soil more loamy and soft, which makes drainage better,” Wright says. 

“There are so many bulb varieties to choose from in our zone. It’s fun to choose, just go to a garden store and look around. It’s also a good idea to get a bulb auger attachment for your drill. Bigger bulbs need to be planted six to eight inches deep, and smaller ones three to four inches deep,” she says.

Bulbs are meant to be planted in large masses or drifts. No precision needed! Mixing multiple colors of daffodils into one drift adds interest, as does planting assortments of bulbs that flower at different times. “I like to plant lilies, like naked lady lilies, in ground cover like juniper, and get a little architectural,” Wright says. Some lesser-used bulbs Wright loves are freesias and lilies. 

 

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