Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Dreaming of Spring...You Can Grow That.

While most of America scours sale flyers and races to malls in search of perfect holiday gifts, we gardeners anxiously await bargains of a different kind.

The end of season bulb sales.

It starts slowly with our favorite mail order nurseries. E-mails entice us, offering 20 percent off...30 percent...40 percent...sold! And because some overzealous gardener ordered thousands of sale bulbs last year...and then spent weeks planting them in the midst of the holiday season, restraint is in order. Just a few. 

A handful of species tulips...

...some snowdrops for the forest path...

...maybe a box of tulips to plant as a cutting garden. Oh, and a few species lilies to try, plus of course a few extra Casa Blancas. After all, Casa Blancas featured in my long ago wedding bouquet.

A girl can never have too many Casa Blancas.

Oh, wait. Let's not forget the important bulbs. Paperwhites to force for teacher gifts, and a few new amaryllis bulbs to sample...but only a few, because they're not on sale.
Not bad. In fact, when the shipment arrives, it's only one, medium-sized box. I congratulate myself on my restraint.

But then--disaster.

A quick trip to a big box store for a small potted evergreen requires a stroll through the garden center...

...where there are bulbs. Boxes and boxes of bulbs.

And they're 75% off.

I know what you're thinking. You're right.

I have no willpower.

Still, I challenge any gardener to pass up 75% discounted bluebells and tulips.

You know you can't.

(Right now, my husband is rolling his eyes as he reads this in Switzerland, where he's visiting his parents for the week. Because he's in Switzerland and I'm home with the kids, I feel completely justified in my purchase.) 265 bulbs for--wait for it--

I promise you, my friends, these are not disease infested, moldy, shriveled up bulbs. They're plump, lush, and filled with potential. Yes, they're a little smaller than my mail order beauties, but they'll do just fine.

Most of my purchases will find homes in the perennial beds, but a few varieties that are more shade tolerant and deer resistant will be incorporated into the forest paths. Plus, a few will remain indoors for a bit of color during the gloomy winter days.

Bulbs are brilliantly easy: dig a hole the depth according to the directions on the package. A good rule of thumb is to dig a hole to a depth of approximately three times the height of the bulb. Then plant the bulb pointy side up.


Over the years, I've learned a few things that can help make your bulb planting easier and more successful.

Plant in clusters.

By grouping bulbs, you'll make a more dramatic show in your garden—and you can dig one very large hole for many bulbs as opposed to lots of time-consuming individual holes. Who doesn't like to save time and create a better design impact? 

Plant in layers.

If you purchased several varieties of bulbs that bloom at different times, such as crocus and tulips, dig a large, deep hole. Plant the tulip bulbs first, as they require additional depth. Partially backfill soil into the hole, then plant a layer of the smaller crocus bulbs. Fill in the remainder of the hole with soil. You'll have a lovely, continuous display of blooms throughout the spring.

If you have a choice in sale bulbs, choose varieties that flower in intervals. Tulips, for instance, include early, mid, and late-flowering varieties. Select some from each group for continuous blooms. 

Don't make bulb soup.

Good drainage is a must. Otherwise, all of your efforts will simply rot away. 

Beware the nasty vole.

The vole is my nemesis. Garden cats tend to help alleviate the problem...unless they turn into spoiled, overfed, lazy fluff balls like our Sammy and Oreo. We love them, but the kids feed them too many treats for them to be inspired to hunt. Voles will devour your tulips and snack on your lilies.

It's infuriating.

Don't bother with vole-repellant products. I've tried all organic remedies, and honestly—the bobcat urine was like adding salad dressing to the hostas. I'm sure the poison bombs probably work—but they're not happening in our gardens.

What I have found, though, is that a little extra prep work when planting can help alleviate some of the vole destruction.

Apparently, voles don't like to cross anything sharp in the soil. After you've dug your holes for your bulbs, line the bottom and sides of the hole with a layer of sharp gravel or perlite. Place a bit of soil on top, then add your bulbs and cover with soil.

I've succeeded in saving bulbs from becoming vole midnight snacks by using the gravel. It's worth the extra effort and small expense. Trust me.

After all, you know you're going shopping tomorrow so you can pick up some stunning Star of Persia Allium or Checkered Lily Fritillaria, and maybe some Ice Follies daffodils or a few Lady Jane species tulips.

All for 75% off. You know you can grow that!

Just wait. Your garden will be bursting with color next spring.

For more gardening how-to, check out these fabulous ideas from garden bloggers every 4th day of the month at You Can Grow That! 

Happy planting!

XO ~



  1. Like I needed more temptation.......OI! ;)

    1. Ah, but it's 75% off! How can you resist? ;-)(But when will I plant them? ACK.)

  2. Autumn bulb sales are the best ... great bargains on easy to grow plants.

    1. Joene, it's such a great chance to try new varieties without breaking the gardening budget. (Wait. Do I have a gardening budget? I think I'm supposed to...)


  3. You have a serious bulb fetish! You should visit the Keukenhof in Holland!
    So this year I decided to plant my first bulbs. My crocus are doing fine but to my horror my tulip field has big piles of dirt...a mole! Will try this gravel trick of yours next year.
    I planted some Freesia bulbs in springtime and covered them with cat hair before planting so the mice will leave them alone. It worked! Or maybe it was the fact I had a year old kitten running around hunting everything smaller then she is.

    1. Ah Laila, for some women it's shoes, for others it's bulbs...and perennials...and seeds...

      My mother-in-law was born in Holland, and I'm dying to visit. Although--how will I get all of those bulbs through customs? ;-)

      Hate to hear about the mole, but hope it left some tulips for your enjoyment. I'll have to try the cat hair trick--I'll try anything to get rid of voles, which have decided to reside in the veggie beds, too. Grrr. Cheers!

  4. I'm still laughing at the image of the bobcat salad dressing:) Had I known we were going to have temps in the 70's this past weekend, I might have succumbed to bargain bulb temptation, too. Looking forward to seeing your colorful garden next spring, Julie!

    1. The weather is crazy--it was 75 degrees in Upstate SC yesterday, and sadly--I didn't have time to garden. That's just so wrong. I hope you had the chance to play in the garden over the beautiful weekend!

  5. You and I are belong to the order of "Sisters of the Sale Bulbs, Julie! I have been known to gently remind one of my local nursery owners, "Gee, it's after Thanksgiving--isn't this when you put your fall bulbs on sale?" I have no shame, only spring bulb lust! BTW, if you google Old Bulbs Gazette you'll find amazing heirloom bulbs--too late for their sale, but there's always next year! Welcome to You Can Grow That!

    1. Benita, I think we need to start a club: The Sisterhood of the Irresistible Bulbs. Somehow, I think we'd have quite a few members. Perhaps we need a Pinterest Board--hmmm? That might be fun. I love that you reminded your local nursery about the sale. After all, you're just helping them reduce their fall inventory, right? It's win-win. ;-)

      Thanks for the info on Old Bulbs Gazette--I'm off to check out the site right now. After all, my business is all heirlooms--can't wait to see what I might need to add to the garden next year. Cheers!

  6. 75% off? On man, getting my hair cut tomorrow over by the big box store....might have to stop in. How can we say no? hahahahahah WE DON'T!!

    1. And a month later, I still have bulbs to plant. Good grief, will I never learn?

  7. And just think you were saving the bulbs from certain oblivion because the big box store would have thrown them out. You are almost a hero (try that one with your husband :-)).

    1. HA! He didn't buy it, but thanks for the idea, Carolyn!

  8. I've bought all my bulbs in the sales too - only our ground is rock solid with the frost some I'm hoping it will thaw out soon. You sure did well with your bargains!

    1. Rosie, I hope you get a reprieve and can get the bulbs plants. Worse case scenario--perhaps plant them in containers, then transplant next fall? At least you can enjoy the blooms this spring. Good luck! (I still have many to plant...but being in SC, our ground is still soft.)

  9. Good tips on the voles. We have them here. Our biggest problem is the bunnies though. Forget lilies - even the beautiful Casa Blanca, which I dearly love and have grown in previous gardens. Ditto on the tulips - they only bring heartbreak here, with brilliant shreds on the ground just as they're opening. Daffs - those we can do, and some of the other early-season bulbs too, don't get bothered much. If we don't get some real winter weather soon, we might see snowdrops blooming next month.

  10. I'm a long time reader, first time posting. I also have trouble with voles. My grandmother told me to buy steel wool (the kind without soap in it) and stretch it out thin. Then after placing the bulbs in groups, cover with the wool, then the soil. Works great! Also when I plant hostas, I wrap it around the root ball before planting.
    Thing is, I don't know how long the steel will last in the ground. Have been doing this for maybe 10 yrs with good luck. Maybe they just learn there is something they don't like there.