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Too Many Bulbs — Not Enough Time

No project ever seems to be without a glitch, and for me, fall bulb-planting season has a series of glitches and hurdles in a race against time. Yet, at the end of summer, I am ready to face the season of falling leaves with plenty of garden projects.

I can’t wait to tackle to peruse the nursery catalogs. Sifting through the numerous offerings, looking at the glossy images and reading their descriptions, I know expert word wranglers write these catalogs. They spin creative plant characterizations that urge me to buy, buy and buy. I feel like a child in a toy store as bright-red, striped tulips jump out from the page.

Tulipa 'Cool Crystal'
Tulipa ‘Cool Crystal’

I bookmark each page filled with giant alliums, tulips, daffodils, crocus, lilies and every little specialty bulb, tuber, corm or rhizome. After I make my selections, the grand total reaches proportions rivaling Santa’s toy list. I look at the items again, moving many entries to the wishful-thinking column until the amount of plants left aligns with my garden budget.

Tulipa 'West Point'
Tulipa ‘West Point’

With a month or more to prepare a space in the garden for my new purchases, I’m confident I will complete the groundwork before the bulbs arrive at my front door. The list whittled down to a manageable amount of plants; I am positive there is room in the garden after I make a few adjustments and time to plant every one. I send off the orders.

Narcissus 'April'Queen'
Narcissus ‘April’Queen’

Boxes always seem to arrive after a thorough house cleaning. The first box comes, announced by the doorbell ring. I eagerly open the box and spill bags of bulbs, envelopes and planting directions across the kitchen counter, showering flecks of soil and packing material across the newly mopped floor. For now, I’m going to dance around the kitchen, holding bags of bulbs in each hand, anticipating the production of digging them into the soil for next spring’s floral show.

Finally, the rest of the boxes arrived. I’ve checked them off my list, saved all the receipts, and put each bulb’s name into my database. Sounds organized? Hardly. I haven’t planted anything yet.

Narcissus 'Suada'
Narcissus ‘Suada’

I grab the bulb planter, shovel, fertilizer and the first bulbs to go into the ground, throwing everything into a 5-gallon bucket. It never seems to fail: I walk into the garden about the same time an autumn squall opens its floodgates, dumping many huge raindrops, soaking me within seconds. I mutter, “Very funny!” I’m determined to continue my planting quest despite nature spitting on the ground. I dash inside, slip on my hat, raincoat and muck boots.

Tulipa 'Apricot Giant'
Tulipa ‘Apricot Giant’

Quickly the tiny storm passes through, and the sun peeks out. A rainbow in the distance tells me the squall is still kicking up a fuss somewhere else. Here I stand in the fresh-washed air, a bag of 100 lily-flowering tulips in one hand, a shovel in the other, wondering — where am I going to plant them?

Crocus 'Blue Pearl'
Crocus ‘Blue Pearl’

I set off to get the task done. Arriving in the garden, I noticed some plants needed dividing, the required soil amending, and there was little space for my bulbs. I cannot plant all my bulbs in one session; this gardener will be lucky to plant every bulb this fall.

What did I think when I ordered hundreds of bulbs last summer? I wonder where the time went. I thought there were six weeks to prepare the garden for the incoming bulbs, but Procrastination, my lifelong friend, came to visit; I set aside the work.

Narcissus 'Merlin'
Narcissus ‘Merlin’

I stand in the garden, trowel in one hand and bulbs in the other, without knowing where to plant them. The task commitment is enough to make anyone feel they need their head examined for buying more than they could handle! It has happened so often that I’ve had to find ways to overcome being overwhelmed.

Narcissus 'Jack Snipe'
Narcissus ‘Jack Snipe’
This container was used many years for planting about 100 daffodil bulbs.
Narcissus 'Thalia'
Narcissus ‘Thalia’

When facing the dilemma of too many bulbs and insufficient time, you can give the excess away to other gardeners. It’s better to be generous with your friends than let the bulbs rot in their packages. However, I found ways to keep them all. Whenever there are leftover bulbs, grab some black gallon pots, decorative pots or any pot you can see, and plenty of potting soil to bury your treasures.

In the black gallon pots, pot up as many bulbs of daffodils or tulips as you can place side-by-side without touching each other. For plants like lilies with large bulbs, plant only one to three bulbs per gallon pot. In addition, place bulbs in large or small decorative pots. Get them buried in the dirt and worry about replanting them or staging them later.

Lilium auratum
Lilium auratum
Lilium 'Yelloween'
Lilium ‘Yelloween’

Keep on hand some lovely decorative pots to toss a nice-looking plant in for an instant display that disguises the ugly plastic pots they come in. When the show is over, take the plastic pot out and replace it with another plant in bloom. Then plant the perennials out in the garden when the show is over. This method works well with perennials that bloom for a couple of weeks. It also works with bulbs.

Narcissus 'Spellbinder'
Narcissus ‘Spellbinder’

The decorative pots allow you to stage an ever-changing plant show, with smaller containers surrounding some of the larger ones that have more permanently planted displays. You will have an array of fresh plants on the deck all summer and a spring march of planted bulbs when they are in their spring glory.

NWFGS Northwest Flower & Garden Show
Northwest Flower & Garden Show display garden

Anyone can do this, whether purposely or like me, in a panic about what to do with excess bulbs. You can plant 1- to 3-gallon pots with one type of bulb. Five or six daffodils or tulips, more or less depending on bulb size for a 1-gallon container, and use more bulbs for the larger containers. Lilies will look great when all are blooming at the same time. While the plants develop over winter, keep the potted ones in a protected place (especially if you have squirrel problems), buried in the ground, under leaves or an unheated cloche, or in a greenhouse. When they are ready for staging, clean the dirt off the pot and place them inside the decorative pots.

Tulipa 'Apricot Giant'
Tulipa ‘Apricot Giant’

Alternatively, you can plant your bulb-filled plastic pots in the ground. It is helpful if you don’t want to view the unsightly ripening foliage of tulips and daffodils taking up garden space. First, plant your bulbs in pots. Then plant the container in the ground anytime between fall and just before the flowers open. When the floral show is over in the spring, dig the pots up and place them in a hidden place where you can allow the foliage to continue basking in the sun until they die back to the ground. Or toss the bulbs entirely and stage a new show next year.

Northwest Flower Garden Show 2015

Article written for West Sound Home & Garden Magazine’s September 2014 issue. All photographs from Teashon’s garden, except where noted.

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