Durango BOtanic Gardens

Building Public Gardens Committed to Demonstration and Education

  • Bulb Planting Tips

    The autumnal tease is here. A couple nights of frost, the changing colors, and the snow up high on the mountain tops signal the changing of the guard. We all scramble to get the wood chopped and stacked, resist turning on the heat, and unfortunately find matching socks (good bye flip flops) and the down jacket.

    In the garden, we are dead-heading the perennials, adding some organic matter to the vegetable beds, looking for deals on plants and trees at the nursery (fall is a great time to plant), and hopefully some of you are looking at planting spring bulbs and garlic.

    October is a great month to plant bulbs as our soils right now are pretty easy to work and have not frozen yet. If you plant too late, it may affect establishment and spring bloom. I would also recommend hand-picking out the bulbs you want, either at a local nursery or at the Durango Botanical Society’s upcoming Bulb Sale (see accompanying Get Growing article). Select ones that are large, firm and free from disease or rot.

    Plant bulbs with the roots down and the pointy tip up. Not sure which end is down? Then plant the bulb on its side—it will figure it out. Bulbs should be planted 3-4 times deep as the length of the bulb. For example, if a bulb is 2” long, it should be planted 6-8” deep. I get it – digging in our soils isn’t always that fun with the clay and rocks and all, so have some flexibility in where you want to plant the bulbs. Or plant the bulbs en masse – this way you can dig a wider hole and reduce the recommended spacing a bit. 

    Lastly, water your bulbs well after planting and mulch. The need for bulb fertilizer seems to be debated, but if your soil lacks nutrients, adding fertilizer won’t hurt. Apply 2-4” of an organic mulch over the tops of the bulbs and then you’re done!

    While I enjoy the daffodils, grape hyacinth, and the ridiculously wide array of tulips out there, some great (and not so common) choices:

  • Eremurus spp.:  The “pop” in your garden, these tall spikes, also called foxtail lilies or desert candles, are very showy. Typically bloom in early summer and are about 4’ tall. They don’t mind the drier sites that drain quickly. Zone 5.
  • Chionodoxa spp.: Frequently referred to as ‘Glory of the Snow’; 5-10 flowers per stem and do well as naturalizers (bulbs that can be left to their own business and expand freely in a pattern guided more by nature and less by the gardener) .Plants grow to 10” tall and are hardy to zone 3. Try planting them in the lawn.
  • Fritillaria spp.: Another fun plant in the garden that can act as a showcase in the late spring. Bell-shaped flowers that come in all colors and heights. Hardy to zone 4 and perfect for the rock garden. The plants, some of which can be 3-4’ tall, can sometimes have a “skunky” smell to them. While it may turn you off a bit to them, know that it can also turn off the deer and rodents that tend to love chewing on our spring bulbs. 

Darrin Parminter, Horitculturalist, La Plata County Extension Office

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