It remains unseasonably warm here on the coast of Maine but the weather is still cool enough for planting fall bulbs. While those of us who live in cooler climates think that daffodils and tulips are more suited to our growing zones, the truth is that hardiness varies depending on their ancestry. Spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils require a long period of cool temperatures to spark the biochemical process that causes them to flower, but many varieties have adapted and do well in zones 9 and 10 on the West Coast, or in the arid Arizona desert. About the only place in the US spring bulbs don’t thrive is southwestern Florida, where the daily torrents of the rainy season give them way too much water. In general, tulips and daffodils need well-drained soil and no additional watering in the summer months, which is why it is sometimes difficult to mix bulbs in with other flowers and herbs. So this year I’ve taken a different approach. I’ve added a narrow band of bulbs-only just outside the low wall that encloses our tiny kitchen garden. I removed an 18-inch-wide strip of the existing grass and tossed it in a low spot we’ve been filling in beside a shed. Then I loosened the soil, added a bit of compost, and planted. I still put the bulbs in at the recommended depth of three times the height of the bulbs, about six to eight inches for the larger varieties, four to six inches for the smaller. I usually plant in goups of three or five bulbs and fairly close together in the clumps, about three inches apart center to center, although the recommended spacing is usually six inches center to center. Before setting the bulbs in place, with the narrow ends up, I scratched a tablespoon of bulb fertilizer into the soil. After covering the bulbs, I watered them in, as it’s been very dry lately. It’s recommended that newly planted spring bulbs be kept moist through the fall while they’re growing new roots, but I — like most of us, I suspect — am putting away the hoses for the winter, so I’m depending on autumn rains to do the job for me. But if you want to do the job right, watering will help to settle the soil, and the moisture will trigger root growth so that your bulbs will be ready to burst into bloom when spring arrives.



This year I only planted narcissus and daffodils, from tiny tete-a-tetes to large common old King Alfreds, and will wait until next fall to add in some tulips. If you’re putting in tulips this year, here’s a tip from White Flower Farm, bulb purveyors in Connecticut: the best way to encourage long life from tulip bulbs is to plant them deep, a depth of 8 to 10 inches for full-size tulips. Again, they don’t like additional watering, tending to do best with no additional watering during their summer dormancy months, and if you keep them deep and dry, you should get several years of flowers from your bulbs.

If you want to plant a swathe of daffodil bulbs for that naturalized look, the fastest way to get the job done is to enlist the help of an assistant. This is a fine time to involve a child in the process, in which one of you will dig and one plant. The digger will make a deep slot in the turf by inserting a spade into the ground and pushing forward. The assistant follows and pushes a bulb into the slot, scatters on some bulb fertilizer, then steps on the loose soil to push it back into place. It’s the ideal scenario for a kid: no hard work and lots of stomping.

If you’ve had trouble with predatory squirrels in the past, the deeper-planted bulbs aren’t usually disturbed, as squirrels rarely scratch down more than a few inches. But they might find your smaller daffodils or crocuses, since they are planted just three to five inches deep. One recommendation is to lay a piece of hardware cloth or small-gauge poultry wire fencing over a newly planted area. You can then take it off in a couple of weeks, after rain and watering have settled the soil and removed all telltale signs of planting. An alternative way to foil the squirrels is to lay used window screens over the area. These are readily obtainable, I’ve found, at yard sales and transfer station swap shops. Once you have them, they can easily be put away with the other garden tools when you’re done with them for the season.