It’s planting time! You might think that a strange beginning for an October article, perhaps more appropriate for May. But there is no mistake. Mid-October is the time to plant bulbs of many spring-bloomers as well as garlic.
Perhaps more planting is the last thing you feel like doing at the end of a long gardening season, but next spring when you see the first shoots of the bulbs you planted in fall poking out of the soil, you’ll be very happy you made the effort now.
Bulbs are planted 2 ½ times as deep as they are tall. For example, if a bulb is an inch tall, dig the hole so that when the bulb is placed in the bottom, the top of the bulb is about 2 ½ inches from the soil line. Look carefully at the bulb to determine which end is up. There will be tiny roots or little knobby bumps at one end; the other end will be pointier. The pointy end goes up. If you can’t tell which end is which, lay the bulb on its side in the hole and it will figure out for itself which way is up when it starts to grow.
The most well-known spring flowers that grow from bulbs are tulips, daffodils and crocuses. There are many other options.
Fragrant, formal hyacinths can front a border. White, blue or purple grape hyacinths are good for either borders or naturalizing. Less formal wood hyacinths have clusters of delicate pink, blue or white bell-shaped flowers. They grow 8-12 inches tall and are used in borders, naturalizing and rock gardens. Indian Hyacinths are American natives that have blue or violet flower spikes set with starry blossoms. They grow 12-24 inches tall and do well in moist, partially shaded locations making them ideal for naturalizing by ponds or in light woods.
One of the earliest bulbs to bloom in spring are Snowdrops. White butterfly-shaped blooms ignore the cold and nod on 4-6” stems.
Another early bloomer is Glory of the Snow. Sparkling sky-blue flowers with white centers are produced in profusion in March and April, with up to a dozen starry flowers on each stem. They multiply freely year after year. Glory of the Snow grows only 4-8” tall and does well in sun or partial shade.
If you miss the snow in late spring, plant Summer Snowflakes. These clump-forming plants produce a profusion of 12-20” stems that each bear several faintly chocolate-scented inch-long white bells accented with green tips. Plant them in full sun or light shade.
Nothing compares to drifts of bright blue scilla for early spring color. They naturalize beautifully making them ideal for mass plantings and edgings. The foliage is grass-like and unobtrusive and they grow 6-8” tall.
As for garlic, separate the bulbs into individual cloves and plant them just like flower bulbs, spacing them several inches apart. Mulch heavily over the winter and harvest the following July.