Roots and Shoots: The Pilgrims Planted Daffodils on Thanksgiving, Right?

By Pamela Doan

If you really want to stave off the winter blues as we descend into the shortest daylight hours of the year, think about spring and get out there and pop a few bulbs in the yard. As long as you can still dig into the ground, it’s OK to get them in, but the sooner, the better. It’s technically way beyond the time that the garden calendar would dictate that bulbs should be planted, but the ground definitely isn’t frozen yet. Although we’ve had a cold snap this week, the weather forecast shows a daytime temperature of 64 degrees again for next week.

Ideally, bulbs are planted in October in our zone. That gives the bulb sufficient time to put out roots and settle in for the winter. Unlike a rooted flower, a bulb is a collection of leaf tissue, not stem tissue, and it needs to send out roots to anchor it for growth. Bulbs are fun because unless you diagram the location of each, it’s easy to forget exactly where you put them in. That’s part of the unexpected joy of finding them in the yard in spring.

Since it’s past the best time for planting, an easy project is to make a very minimal investment in a bag of daffodil and crocus bulbs. Choose some of the earliest blooming varieties, and depending on the severity and duration of our coming winter, you might even have flowers blooming in the yard in early March. Nothing breaks up the doldrums of our gray and lengthy winter like a pop of color. I especially like yellow flowers. It’s a bright spring color that has great contrast before the trees have leaves and other plants brighten the landscape.

Crocuses are some of the earliest blooming flowers in the spring. (Photo by P. Doan)

Crocuses are some of the earliest blooming flowers in the spring. (Photo by P. Doan)

Daffodils are some of the best choices for our area because of deer, too. Unless you’ve got fencing, don’t even consider tulips unless you’re prepared for disappointment or want to cut them for vases inside. Deer love tulips as cats love catnip or a dog loves a bone. Although nothing is completely safe from browsing deer if they’re hungry enough, I’ve had daffodils in the yard for many years successfully. They’re a flower of last resort.

I’ve read that planting flowers that deer don’t like next to ones that they do like can protect flowers from browsing, but I haven’t tried it. In this case, the technique would be to plant tulips surrounded by a daffodil border or even to put the bulbs in the same hole next to each other.

A few quick and dirty pointers for planting bulbs over your holiday weekend:

Bulbs have an upside and downside. Place them in a hole with the pointy side facing up. If the soil isn’t well balanced, adding compost to the hole and working it into the soil helps, but simply popping them in the ground without fanfare is OK in an established bed.

As a general rule, the planting depth for bulbs is two to three times the length of the bulb. Check the packaging for exact measurements, though. There are handy garden trowels that have inches noted on the handle that make great guides for planting bulbs. Precision helps when planting bulbs. Too deep and they won’t be able to sprout. Too shallow and they won’t have enough room to root.

Squirrels will dig up bulbs for a tasty treat. If they are a problem in your yard, protect the bulb planting by placing a sheet of chicken wire over the ground and covering it with mulch.

Since perennials tend to bloom later in the spring, ensure constant color and make the most of flowerbeds by planting bulbs that will bloom successively. Space the bulbs out, and when one flower is ending its cycle, set it up so that another flower will take over.

You don’t have to restrict bulbs to flowerbeds. I found crocuses all over the lawn of a house that I moved into, and it was a delight to walk through the yard and find purple flowers shooting up unexpectedly. The crocuses bloom so early that they’ve finished their cycle by the time that the grass has to be mowed. Daffodils will do this, too.

Make sure you’re planting hardy bulbs. The garden centers have lots of different types of bulbs next to each other, and summer bulbs generally won’t survive being in the frozen ground of winter.

Crocuses are some of the earliest blooming flowers in 
the spring.


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