In Garden Tips, General
There is delayed satisfaction in planting flowering bulbs

When I was teaching a Professional Practices class at The University of Tennessee in Sustainable Landscape Design, I would encourage my students to replace the word “spend” with “invest”. Some may say that’s just common-sense sales 101. Like the way most commercials interject the word “value” whenever possible. But I sincerely believe that pretty much any work done in the garden is exactly that. An investment. There is a terrific chance that 90% of what we “spend” our money goes down in value once the purchase has been made. With any kind of gardening the opposite is true. Most anything you stick in the soil will help your property grow in value (with the exception of English ivy, privet, and kudzu).

For most people Black Friday is that stress induced day after Thanksgiving when we used to venture deep into consumerism to find a pre-Christmas deal (I say used to since now most of our shopping is done with the click of a mouse). For most of my life I have used this same day to don the boots, hat, and trowel (or better, the auger attached to my power drill) to plant a couple hundred flowering bulbs. Yes, in Knoxville, Tennessee the day after Thanksgiving can easily be in the 70’s or low 80’s but I have faith that the cold soil temps will come and, in the spring, (usually evidenced in our area in late February) I’ll get to truly reap what I’ve sown and enjoy some beautiful surprises that I’ve nearly forgotten about.

(In a weird way I kind of connect this same concept with putting down a deposit on a vacation cottage or room rental. The pain of forking over that cash has softened and when you check in or pay the balance at the time of your journey, you kind of think you’re getting a deal. Sorry, off on a tangent there).

Tulips in the south seem to fall into the “Annual” category. But crocus, at least in my neighborhood, come back year after year.

I realize there are tons of bulbs from which to choose but for me it’s mostly spring bloomers like tulips, iris, crocus, daffodils, and grape hyacinths. Lately I’ve been experimenting with alliums after falling in love with them in Europe and the UK. (of course, most of those gardens are blessed with non-Tennessee clay so my experimenting with soil drainage will continue).

The actual planting of bulbs can be a bit of a pain (literally) so have your Ibuprofen handy. When I was a younger man, I would crank up a little Mantis tiller* (when I could get it to start) and go to town ripping into any potential planting bed within my frame of vision. Here comes some irony. Now that I’m a grumpy old man, I rely more on my mattock and bend deeply and chop at each hole for a few strokes to break up the soil a bit before adding a pinch of bulb food, inserting the spring gem, and gently covering. Generally speaking, tilling soil is not recommended since it compromises the soil’s structure and creates “disturbance” which tends to bring long dormant weed seed banks to the surface which can kinda ruin your garden party.

(*I’m also a kind of non-gasoline powered tool person. (I won’t go into the evils of leaf blowers here.)

There are a few places in our garden that get cultivated repeatedly, year after year. So, in these spots I rely on an auger that I attach to a power drill to do the dirty work . Once I’m set up, I can knock out about 100 five-inch-deep holes in about 20 minutes AND save the Ibuprofen for a larger emergency.

Here she is!

With our squirrel and chipmunk population, I tend to treat tulips as annuals since these are critter candy and between our garden and a couple “adopt-a-spots”, plant a couple hundred annually. The other bulbs that I truly consider long term investments, include grape hyacinth, iris, crocus, and daffodils. These all seem to return each spring, at least for me.

As far as culture is concerned, most of the stuff I’ve mentioned are sun loving but with early blooming bulbs you don’t need to stress too much over shade being cast from deciduous trees since most don’t fully leaf out until the bulbs begin to naturally fade.

I’m a big fan of garden whimsy as you can tell. Have some fun with flowering bulbs. While the payback isn’t immediate, it is deeply rewarding.

I’ve had the opportunity to lead many students over the years on study abroad garden tours all over Europe and Japan. After visiting world renown Keukenhof near Amsterdam several times it was easy to come home both inspired and overwhelmed. While in my own plant-loving mind I sometimes feel like a bratty child (“I want this! I want that!), I’ve also come to realize that it’s just as pleasurable to go and see beauty and not necessarily have to possess it.

So even though the timing of this is a bit off, for those of you who are passionate gardeners your mailbox has already become the terminal destination for a few or many plant catalogues. SO…enjoy the winter rest while you have it and start dreaming, designing, and planting for a colorful 2022 and beyond.

Happy planting!

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