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Careful bulb consideration now yields success in the spring

Jessica Walliser
| Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, 2:48 p.m.
Allium caeruleum is one of the good bulb choices for deer-plagued gardeners.
Jessica Walliser
Allium caeruleum is one of the good bulb choices for deer-plagued gardeners.

The arrival of autumn also heralds the arrival of bulb-planting time for gardeners. Though the rewards of your efforts won't be enjoyed until springtime, planting flowering bulbs now will fill your garden with color and interest at a time when we winter-weary gardeners need it the most.

From now until late November, take the time to stop at your local nursery and pick up some spring-blooming bulbs. You'll be amazed at the diversity of bulb plants now available for home gardeners. From jewel-toned tulips to fragrant hyacinths, there's a spring bulb to suit just about everyone.

But, don't just grab the first bulb that catches your eye. Instead, take a little time to consider which bulbs will do best in your garden. We all face challenging conditions from time to time, and in order to have a successful bulb display, these challenges should be accounted for.

Here are some tips for selecting spring-blooming bulbs guaranteed to succeed in your specific growing conditions:

• Gardeners who live in areas of heavy deer browse will want to plant deer-resistant bulbs, such as alliums, daffodils, fritillaria, and Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica). Do not plant tulips or crocus where deer are problematic as you likely won't get to enjoy a single bloom before Bambi does. The only crocus species considered to be deer resistant is the “tommy” crocus, Crocus tommasinianus. It's an adorable little blue crocus that's worth seeking out if you live in deer territory and want to grow crocus.

• Those gardeners plagued by ground-dwelling, bulb-munching voles and chipmunks will want to include daffodils, Siberian squill (Scilla sibirica), Glory of the snow (Chionodoxa), alliums and grape hyacinths (Muscari) in their plans. These bulbs are distasteful to these little critters who leave them alone. Tulip bulbs, on the other hand, make a particularly tasty winter treat.

• If your ground is poorly drained and stays waterlogged well into the spring, plant camassia bulbs (Camassia quamash or C. leichtlinii). Also known as camas lilies, these North American native bulbs bear tall, gorgeous spikes of blue or white flowers. The bulbs were once an important food source for native peoples. Though most bulbs will rot in very wet soils, camassia will not. Another choice bulb for wet sites is snowdrops (Galanthus).

• Gardeners with dry shade should grow winter aconite (Eranthus hyemalis), native trout lilies (Erythronium), snowdrops or wind flowers (Anemone blanda). These bulbs do exceptionally well under deciduous trees. They'll bloom before the trees leaf out and then shift into natural dormancy once the tree canopy fills in. They can handle dry conditions all summer long as they sit dormant underground beneath the trees.

• If you have sandy soil (which isn't likely here in Western Pennsylvania but is prevalent in other areas of the country), try small species tulips, ornamental alliums and crocus.

No matter which bulbs you select for your garden, be sure to plant them properly. Spring-blooming bulbs should always be planted “nose up.” The nose of the bulb is the pointed end; the rounded end is where the roots emerge from.

The proper planting depth should also be considered. In general, the bigger the bulb, the deeper it needs to be planted. A good rule of thumb to remember is that the proper planting depth is approximately two-and-a-half to three times as deep as the bulb is tall. So for a 1-inch-tall crocus bulb, the proper depth is 2 12 to 3 inches deep.

After planting your spring bulbs, you can top-dress the area with an organic bulb-specific fertilizer, such as BulbTone. Do not put fertilizer directly into the planting holes as this can burn newly emerging roots. You can also give your plants a boost by mulching the planting area with 2 inches of finished compost or finely shredded leaves.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is Send your gardening or landscaping questions to or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

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