JoAnne Skelly: October best time to plant spring flowering bulbs

I’m looking forward to planting daffodils this weekend. They were so lovely last spring; I want more. Spring flowering bulbs need fall planting and October is the best planting time. Once planted, bulbs require little maintenance for long-term visual pleasure. Among the most popular types of bulbs are tulips, narcissus, daffodils, hyacinths and crocuses.

For the best display next spring, start with large firm bulbs. Smaller, less expensive bulbs will have less food reserves and will produce fewer flowers on weaker stems. Avoid bulbs with blemishes, discoloration, moldy skin or rotten bits.

Select a site for planting where the bulbs will receive a minimum of five- to six-hours of sun each day, although daffodils, fritillaries or wood hyacinths will tolerate some shade. Ideally, the soil in your selected location should be porous and well drained.

Dig a hole for each bulb, or dig one large area, big enough to hold all the bulbs in one drift. Bulbs planted in irregular patterns and masses of just one color look more natural than those planted in soldierly rows. Bulbs can be planted in with ground covers and other flowers. The general rule for planting depth is to plant bulbs two to three times as deep as the bulb diameter. Plant them as far apart as the depth at which they are planted — four- to six- inches for large bulbs, one- to two-inches for small ones. In poorer draining soils, plant bulbs a little higher to prevent them from rotting.

Loosen the soil in the bottom of the hole. Mix in compost and bone meal, superphosphate or a commercial bulb food into the bottom of the hole. Balanced fertilizers high in phosphorus — the second number in the analysis — such as a 5-10-5 or 5-10-10 can be used instead. Plant the bulbs with the flat or concave side down and the pointed side up. Press the bulbs gently into contact with the bottom of the hole and cover with the amended soil. Tamp the soil down firmly around the bulbs. This will eliminate air pockets that prevent good root development. Water thoroughly and apply a three-inch layer of mulch for winter protection. Water once every week or two through the fall and at least once a month through the winter.

After a long winter of often-gray days and little color in the yard, that first burst of spring color will be a welcome sight.

JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at or 887-2252.


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