Proper planning will yield long-term results

newDonnawebReaders often ask me about the best time to plant flowering bulbs. Some, in fact, wait months to act – or react.

The answer is no. Seeds will still grow if held for years and fall bulbs might leaf out if left on the counter, but bulbs won’t bloom if left sitting on the laundry-room shelf all winter.

Plant your fall bulbs as soon as you buy them. Don’t wait until it rains. the next blue moon or when you finish your thesis. Planting bulbs sooner rather than later is the best bet for best spring blooms.

Unlike seeds, flowering bulbs are special sugar packets with fully formed flower buds. Once rooted, they are ready to pop instantly into bloom next spring.

This flower bud dries out if not kept cool and damp over winter – it’s why we bury the bulbs in damp cool soil as soon as we get them. Like popcorn popping, bulbs burst into bloom in spring all at once.

To be safe, choose hardy small bulbs such as Scilla (Squill) and Muscari (Grape hyacinth) in small groups of 15 bulbs each.

For bigger gardens, large groups of 150 to 500 bulbs create a dramatic effect. Small bulbs planted about three to four centimetres apart and deep will continue to bloom for 30 or more years. Tulips and ornamental onions are larger bulbs and need about 15 centimetres between each bulb and a cover of 10 centimetres of soil to get instant gratification next year. These bigger bulbs will last three to five years, gradually shrinking in size.

Newbies should stay away from planting hyacinths and daffodils in Calgary because these bulbs need a bit of babying and mulching and careful watering when they are planted. In other words, they are not care-free.

The best-laid bulb plans yield the best flowers next spring. Buying bulbs is not as good as buying an RRSP, but almost as valuable with today’s pathetic interest rates.

P.S. Are you planning ahead to sell your home next spring? Plant bulbs early this fall and get the full impact when they bloom all at once next spring. Different bulbs bloom at different times.

Donna Balzer is a garden writer and entertaining speaker. Sign up for her blog feeds at or follow her on Twitter @NoGuffGardener.