Diggin’ In: A garden of tips and tools for bulb-planting season

October 19, 2015

It’s the bulb-planting time of year for gardeners who want spring flowers.

In Poquoson, Va., Master Gardeners plant bulbs each fall at the Poquoson Learning Garden — thanks to the donation of 10,000 bulbs over the past couple of years from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs —

The garden features tulips, daffodils, dwarf irises, anemone and crocus.

"A lot of tulips planted in the ground are susceptible to voles and hungry deer," says Poquoson Master Gardener Noel Talcott.

"All of our tulips have been planted in our empty raised beds, which held vegetables and cut flowers during the gardening season. We have had great success and so far have not had any issues with deer coming in to sample the foliage or blooms."

Root-eating voles can also bother bulbs, especially tulips, which Talcott recommends planting in pots or raised beds.

"At our home, we layer tulips in large plastic pots, top with soil and plant violas or pansies on top," he says.

"Then we sink the pots in the ground up to the rim. In spring, the tulips come up through the flowers. After they are finished blooming, we swap out the pots with summer flowers. We put those pots back in the holes and those plants are protected from voles too."

For planting bulbs, the Master Gardeners use the method recommended by Brent Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.

The process is simple: Scrape back any mulch, place the bulbs on the ground and cover with six inches of mulch.

"This method works great in our mulched beds as well as in the raised beds," says Talcott.

"In the raised beds, we remove about four to six inches of soil, place the bulbs and then cover them with the removed soil. This year we planted most of the crocus in the lawn and they bloomed before the grass started to grow and needed cutting. We will see how well those return next year."

Bulb care 101

After the bulbs finish blooming, Talcott and other Master Gardeners suggest you:

Allow the daffodil foliage to die back. Do not cut the foliage back because the bulbs need that foliage to rebuild the energy stored in the bulb for next year’s blooms.

For tulips, dig them up and give them away or add them to the mulch pile. Bulb experts like Brent Heath says the Hampton Roads climate is not conducive to tulips producing masses of flowers year after year, so it’s best to treat them as annuals.

Feed the bulbs with a balanced fertilizer specified for bulbs.

Problem-free bulbs:

Daffodils, snowdrops and snowflakes are said to be deer- and rodent-proof because they contain lycorine, a bitter alkaloid that’s toxic when eaten, according to a news release from Color Blends, a Connecticut-based bulb supplier at

Other bulbs that deer tend to dislike include: allium, camassia, glory-of-the snow, winter wolf’s bane, crown imperial, snake’s head, starflower and blue squill.

Rodents tend to avoid: glory-of-the snow, winter wolf’s bane, crown imperial and blue squill.

Power planter:

Bulbs can be planted as groupings in large holes that you dig with a shovel; just be sure to dig the hole the required planting depth for the bulbs.

They can also be planted individually with the help of tools such as a bulb planter auger that fits into a standard power drill. Simply drill to the maximum depth of the auger and lift the auger out of the hole; about an inch of loose soil will remain in the planting hole. The Bulb Planter Auger from Power Planter (model #307) is three inches in diameter and seven inches long, and comes with a 3/8-inch non-slip hex drive for use with any cordless or corded drill. $22.99 from

Bees and bulbs:

Bees use early-blooming spring bulbs such as crocus, eranthis and chionodoxa for their protein-rich pollen, according to Denise Hutchins, manager at the bulb business. Bees also like lilies and dahlias, but not the too-heavy-to-carry pollen on daffodils and the bulb toxin in the Amaryllidaceae family, she adds.

Two helpful booklets:

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs offers two full-color booklets that help you get the most out of your bulb plantings, including:

"Bulbs as Companion Plants" gives you 48 pages of design ideas, plant combinations and planting techniques.

"Living Flower Arrangements" features 36 pages of ways to pot up and store flower bulbs for year-round beauty and décor on porches and patios.

Each booklet is $5; order and also get free 83-page informative bulb catalog at



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