Digging all those little holes is just a bit too much like real work, especially as I prefer naturalizing the bulbs — gaily scattering the plantings at the edge of the landscape, as if the flowers were planted by Nature and not by human intent.
The effect is so lovely in spring, however, that I force myself to do the fall planting required. Along the way, I’ve found a few ways to make it a little easier.
First and frugally, I choose the flowers that I know will survive and multiply: daffodils and some of the smaller bulbs like the striking blue scilla. Tulips simply don’t prosper here, where the hungry deer and rodents scavenge. Even if they’re not eaten, tulips tend to decline in strength and number after a few years.
On the other hand, daffodils and narcisses — not on the wildlife menu — will naturally strengthen and increase as time goes by. They are the perfect choice for naturalizing.
My approach to the actual bulb planting is rather casual, to say the least.
First, I wrench out chunks of sod with a clever device called a Garden Claw — a tool that I ridiculed for several years until I borrowed one to try out and discovered it actually has some purpose! A little digging with a sturdy trowel will deepen the hole just a tiny bit more and loosen up the soil at the bottom. Then I simply plonk the bulb in (pointy end up)and press it down into the loosened soil, and backfill the hole.
The experts say to plant spring-flowering bulbs, such as daffodils, tulips, scilla, glory-of-the-snow, snowdrops, and so on, to a depth equal to three times the height of the bulb. Plant in well-drained soil, they say, with a sprinkling of bone meal.
But what we have here is a heavy cold clay soil, liberally laced with rocks wherever it’s not actually boggy. Not ideal for bulbs — so I plant just a bit on the shallow side and try to avoid the soggiest spots of low-lying ground.
The real trick to success with hardy spring bulbs seems to be to backfill the hole with a decent light soil — I mix a little sand with my clay — and press it in firmly.
(To be precise, I sometimes actually stand on top of the backfilled planting hole and admire my accomplishment for a moment before moving on to plant the next bulb. That’s 65lbs of pressure per rubber boot, give or take, for them as are of a scientific bent.)
With the soil compacted around the bulb, there are no soil vacancies where percolating rainwater could pool around the bulb. If water can gather in the planting hole, it will often heave a bulb out of the ground during freeze-up or, heartbreakingly fatal, rot the bulb when warm weather returns.
If I had bone meal lying around I would certainly add a small handful, but I never seem to be able to remember to get any until I’m already out there planting.
And I never seem to get around to planting until about the last possible nice November day, when the surface of the ground is just starting to hold the frost. Any later and the ground would be frozen solid — not to mention the gardener!
Not quite the recommended method, in short. Yet, even if I’m doing it all wrong, I’m not about to mess with success! Those naturalized daffodils are a welcome and breath-taking sight in the spring, more glorious each year. Old Wordsworth had it right.
I gazed-and gazed-but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.