The autumnal equinox will occur next Tuesday. It is the day when daylight hours and nighttime hours are exactly the same. And then, the days will grow shorter as the nights grow longer. Some animals are busily preparing to hibernate. Critters that hibernate include bears, bumblebees, hedgehogs, ground squirrels, bats, turtles, the common poorwill (that is the only bird that hibernates!), snakes (well, they brumate because they are reptiles), woodchucks, moths, fat tailed lemurs, and groundhogs. Hibernation has sounded awfully tempting to me during some exceptionally cold winters.
Well, since we can’t sleep until spring, how about preparing for spring? One way to do that would be to plant bulbs. It is usually one of the last gardening activities that I do during the year, when the growing season gives way to the time of dormancy. And I love planting bulbs. Most of my gardening activities give me instant gratification. When you plant flowers or vegetables or when you dig up weeds, you can see results right away. But planting bulbs involves delayed gratification. You plant them in the fall and they seem like a promise. After the coldness of winter, when you see little green shoots coming out of the ground, you realize what a gift you have given yourself and anyone who happens to come by.
Numerous spring plants grow from bulbs. They include crocuses, summer snowflake (leucojum aestivum), daffodils, miniature daffodils, Siberian squill, tulips, botanical tulips (they have star shaped petals!), Grecian windflowers, alliums, snowdrops, hyacinths, and dahlias. Vegetable plants that grow from bulbs include onions, shallots, and garlic.
The best time to plant the bulbs depends on your climate. In the United States, the key factor would be your USDA zone. Here in Western New York, my zone is 6a, while Long Island is warmer, in zone 7b, and northern New York (the Adirondacks) is colder, in zone 4a. The colder your climate, the sooner you want to plant your bulbs. In Lake Placid, N.Y., for example, you should probably start planting those bulbs by next week. Your window of opportunity is late September to early October. Where I live, in zone 6a, the most opportune time to plant bulbs is mid-October. I have, however, planted bulbs as late as the third week in November so, if you miss the most opportune times, the project is still do-able.
I would have to dig out a bunch of snow before I could start digging into the ground (if it’s still a little bit soft, that is).
Here are a few tips for planting bulbs:
- in colder areas, make sure to plant before the danger of frost. A month after planting your bulbs, you can help them survive the winter by mulching them with shredded leaves, straw, or hay. That will give your new bulbs a layer of insulation that will protect them against harsh weather.
- soaking tunicate bulbs for twelve hours before planting will push them ahead in the growth process. Plants that grow from tunicate bulbs include tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, grape hyacinths, and alliums.
- daffodils tend to grow in clumps. After a few years, the clumps may become too unwieldy. You can divide the daffodils, separating the babies from the mother bulb. Here is an article about how to divide your daffodils.
- If deer and rabbits visit your garden, you might want to avoid planting tulips. Critters think of those plants (and the bulbs, too!) as delicacies. Choose bulbs that are less appetizing. These would include daffodils, crown imperial, Siberian squill, allium, hyacinths, grape hyacinths, bluebells, dog toothed violets, checkered lilies, glory of the snow (this blooms very early in the spring), winter aconite (this one will send its shoots right through snow), and snowdrops (a nice late-winter flower). For more detailed descriptions of these plants, take a look at this website.