When Is It too Late to Plant Spring Bulbs? 

Marc Montefusco
Frederick County Master Gardener Program

Most authorities agree that you can plant bulbs up to the time the ground freezes. Although I am embarrassed to admit it, last yearís relatively mild winter encouraged me to procrastinate until January to plant alliums and camassias, which did just fine come spring. One problem you will face, if you havenít already purchased bulbs, is finding a good selection this late in the season. On the other hand, some suppliers (local, mail order, and on-line) have bulbs available at sale prices now.

I donít recommend cutting it as close as I did, however Ė you want to give bulbs some time to develop a root system before they are required to bloom. Bulbs donít just lay there after you plant them. They develop roots and undergo other changes before putting on their big show in spring. Leaving loose soil at the bottom of the hole, and providing a dusting of bone meal (not fertilizer!) helps this unseen development. When planting bulbs, pay careful attention to the recommended planting depths (usually printed on the package or sent with your order). Proper planting depth helps make sure that bulbs can develop naturally during the winter, and also helps prevent bulbs from sprouting prematurely. Many gardeners use the familiar tubular bulb planter, and if youíre only a planting a few bulbs, they work fine, as long as you donít have to go more than half a foot down Ė these planters become difficult at greater depths. Some suppliers carry foot-powered versions of the same tool, which are great for digging holes in compacted or heavy soils. There is a similar tool that uses a chisel-like blade instead of a cylinder Ė the idea is to pry open a hole, rather than cut out a plug of soil.

If you have lots of bulbs to plant, consider digging out an entire bed to the correct planting depth. This may sound like more work, but after youíve stressed your carpal tunnel with a few twists and turns through our Frederick soils, you may see the wisdom in this approach. The advantages are that all your bulbs are at the correct depth, and you can place them exactly where you want, check your work, and re-position them without having to dig new holes. You can also use this opportunity to arrange other plants in the same bed.

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