Plant bulbs now in Western Washington to enjoy spring blooms

This is a great week to purchase bulbs at the local nursery is as soon as you see them for sale, and add spring flowering bulbs to your landscape.

Western Washington has the perfect climate for growing tulips, daffodils, crocus and other spring bloomers as our mild winters and early springs are similar to what they experience in Holland, considered the bulb growing capital of the world.

The year of 2020 may be remembered for many negative things, but this month may be your chance to change the cycle of loss and lamenting and make 2020 the year you added hundreds of spring flowering bulbs that will perennialize and return for years in defiance of the darkness that was COVID-19.

This fall I will be adding more “Angelique” tulips to my front garden as this double pink variety looks like a peony but with a shorter stem that won’t flop over in the rain. I also will add more of the orb-shaped blue blooms of the flowering onion or alliums. The Allium “Globemaster” has huge blooms on stems up to 3 feet tall, and as members of the onion family this showstopper is naturally pest resistant.

Best bulb planting questions

Q. I have planted bulbs in the past and they have never bloomed. I know that down below the ground mice gnaw on my tulips, then if a few survive and get ready to bloom the deer move in to chomp off the buds! I am done with tulips. Are there any pest resistant bulbs?

A. Daffodils to the rescue! Mice and deer will not destroy daffodil bulbs underground or daffodil blooms above ground, so this is the good-to-go bulb for spring color in areas where deer roam free. You will need to protect daffodils from slugs and snails once the new shoots emerge in the spring. Like all bulbs, they need well-drained soil so they don’t rot in the winter rains.

Q. My soil is rock hard and full of rocks. It is difficult to dig holes for bulbs. Any suggestions for a lazy gardener?

A. I have two ideas for “no dig” bulb planting. The first is to scratch the soil, set the bulbs on top then cover the bulbs with 6-8 inches of topsoil. If you don’t want to have topsoil delivered to your home (deliveries are usually at least 10 yards, a huge amount that can be used on lawns as well as beds) you can purchase garden soil or raised bed soil in bags at home center stores or nurseries. Just open the bag of soil and pour it on top of the bulbs. Cover with a wood chip mulch to keep the mound of soil in place.

Q. How deep should I plant my bulbs? I have crocus, daffodils, tulips and hyacinths to plant.

A. The general rule of green thumb is to plant bulbs two to three times as deep as the height of the bulb. If you have squirrels, plant your bulbs deeper to discourage digging. This formula means that small crocus bulbs would be covered with just a few inches of soil while large daffodils and tulips should go down 6 to 8 inches deep.

Q. How do I stop the squirrels from digging up my bulbs?

A. Plant the bulbs extra deep (some squirrels are lazy) and sprinkle red pepper on top of the soil immediately after planting. It is the newly disturbed soft soil that attracts squirrels as well as some cats and dogs. Fallen limbs or branches placed over the planting site also will discourage digging.

Q. Why won’t my tulips return each year like my daffodils?

A. Two reasons. Tulips like to be dry all summer, so don’t plant in an area that gets summer irrigation, and plant the right tulip variety. Dwarf tulips or rock garden tulips are more likely to return year after year. Look for tulip varieties that are less than 8 inches tall when in bloom. Also, remember to allow the foliage of all spring blooming bulbs to ripen and age naturally after the flower fades. After a bulb is done flowering, that is when the bulb is making next year’s blooms.

Q. Can I plant bulbs in my patio containers without changing the soil that grew summer annuals?

A. Yes! The flowers inside the bulbs are already formed, so the bulbs do not need rich soil as much as they need well-drained soil. That old potting soil is fine as long as you remove most of the faded summer flowers and loosen the potting soil a bit with a trowel before adding the bulbs.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.

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