With the weather just beginning to turn cooler and feeling more like Fall, it is time to start thinking about ordering from mail order catalogs, your local nursery, etc. bulbs and dormant roots of perennials, and dormant trees and shrubs. Now is a good time to order those, stock is plentiful and you will likely be able to get all you request. You can take the pick of the best of what is offered. You can also prepare the planting site well in advance so soil will settle by the time the plants, bulbs, roots arrive.
Most of us gardeners love the show from bulbs. Those etherial beauties just lift our hearts at a dismal time of year and cheer us up in winter when we can look out of a window and see them (We are warm and cozy inside, while they are braving the weather outside). When you plant bulbs, it is important to remember to concentrate the color. That means you plant in groups, clumps, wide meandering drifts….whatever the budget allows. This method will give the brightest impact in the landscape. The eye is drawn to a splash of color. Most of us have started out planting them singly along a path, etc. (myself included) and the effect is meager at best.) One polka dot of color along a line bordering a pathway. We see those bulb catalogs and wonder why ours do not have the impact. (besides the obvious that they are showing many more bulbs)
Planting the bulbs is a nice effort for the cool season. If your site is hard, dry ground, try to irrigate it well and deeply several days before you begin digging. This will make the task much easier on your back. You can do the recommended things like soil preparation in the bottom of the planting hole and adding bone meal if you wish. I just like to add compost, soil amendments and leave it at that. If you have gophers, you will need to use wire baskets to protect those bulbs unless they are nonedibles like daffodils, narcissus, muscari, etc. Be sure to cover the tops of the baskets as well, since gophers are not afraid to go above ground to get inside the basket and the goodies within.
Some bulbs like a cold winter dormancy and you can help them with this by placing them in the veggie bin of the refrigerator for a month at least, then planting. Tulips and hyacinths like this treatment very much. The south African bulbs and Mediterranean as well as Californian native species tend not to need this very cold treatment and perform well in just regular winter temps.
Here’s a tip! Since you will be making a hole anyhow, why not layer the bulbs you plant in that hole… This means to make the hole as deep as needed for the largest bulbs, then backfill the soil and place medium sized bulbs on that layer, then cover that layer with soil, then plant small bulbs on that layer. You are making a bulb layer ‘cake’ if you will… If you want immediate color from the planting effort, plant winter annuals on top of that! Now you have dug one hole and it will give you color for many months as the annuals bloom, then the small bulbs bloom, then the medium bulbs bloom, and finally the large bulbs bloom. Be sure to choose your color scheme accordingly for a harmonious effect. You can always plant one color per hole, or follow the color wheel/complement or contrast. A fine mulch will help hold moisture and keep mud splash to a minimum.
*Another tip is to plant medium and larger bulbs in a ground cover. Daffodils, narcissus, tulips, lilies, are wonderful in this situation. The groundcover gives permanent green foliage and the bulbs grow above it. and give bloom color to the site.
Bareroot perennials can be planted when available as well with similar soil preparation. Wait to plant shrubs and trees until they are dormant and available. This applies to berries too. Peonies are best planted in fall, that method allows the roots to establish well before growth commences in spring.(It’s what peony growers recommend) And do not plant them too deep, or they will not bloom. The eyes need to be chilled (hence shallow planting which exposes them to frosts) in order to get that dormancy and then bloom well after that cold period.
In all planting, be sure to amend the soil well. It is the compost, etc. that will feed the plant while it is getting established. (you do not need to fertilized at this time since the plant is dormant or almost so, and fertilizer applied now, may burn the young roots, delaying establishing roots or even possibly killing the plant with kindness)
There are a miriad number of bulbs from which to choose. Some favorites:
Babiana spp. will produce blues, purples, whites, some pinks on low branched fuzzy stems and above fuzzy leaves. Think freesia, but in different colors… and no fragrance.
Ixia spp. are very graceful wandlike flower clusters, often with a dark eye zone in the heart of the flower.
Freesia spp. (I like the old fashioned ones or the species) These multiply fast and provide the garden with rich perfume. The florist hybrids are larger and showier, but not nearly as fragrant!
Gladiolous spp. Here you will find graceful smaller foliage and flowers than the typical large cluster hybrids. wonderful, just wonderful and a surprise to those that do not yet know them
Watsonia are tough. large swordlike foliage and narrow slender clusters of trumpets of blooms like more graceful gladiolous but taller, white, pinks, orange, almost reds.
Cyclamen spp. I prefer the species or smaller hybrids. These are more graceful, easier to use and are often fragrant! bloom almost all winter in some instances. The species give hundreds of shooting star flowers. Later the foliage is often prettily marked in silver patterns above the green.
Brunsvigia rosea (Amaryllis belladonna) naked ladies. These are gross plants.. I like them very much… they are zero maintenance, nothing eats them and they bloom in summer! New colors are whites, bicolors of darker pinks to rose with white throats, and rose almost approaching reds. They are for wild, semiwild places, along country roads. not for the small tailored garden necessarily, they increase and are dependable performers. Their blooms are fragrant and nice cuts. (use with hydrangeas, pee gee hydrangeas)
Muscari spp. Grape hyacynths These are permanent indestructible making long lived clumps often in blues, but pinks, and white as well as rare yellow can be found!
There are MANY bulbs too numerous to mention here. Once you realize they are almost zero maintenance and often permanent additions to the garden, you will thoroughly enjoy planting as many as you can! There will be a bulb to suit almost every taste, from delicate jewels, to fragrant bold and brassy show stoppers!