Never too early to plan for spring


April may sound like a long way off, but you need to do some planting now for beautiful spring blooms. And since we have a few days of warm and dry weather on the way this week, it will be a good time to crawl around the yard and plant your spring bulbs.

Make a map

I always like to refer to the landscape map. There are too many things going on in this brain of mine and I can't remember where I put things. So it really helps if I draw pictures. If you are a loyal reader, you have already created one. If you are a new loyal reader, you need to make one.

Draw your general landscape with sidewalks, buildings, decks and trees. These are the things that are permanently in place. Now, draw in the bigger landscape items like shrubs, raised beds, and other landscape elements. Make note of plant names when you can.

I make a bunch of copies of this map. These elements don't change very often, so I can use this as my base map. I make a map for each season and keep it in my garden files or journal. It helps me keep track of my planting.

Since your bulbs come up early in the season, they can be planted in the front of and around perennials in your flowerbeds and even on top of later bloomers like hosta. This can be a tricky job so it is a good idea to draw a plan or mark the areas that are planted with bulbs.

Use this basic map to plan the location for your bulbs. Go for big sweeping areas of color with spring bulbs and avoid planting single bulbs here and there. They will get lost with the foliage and be a waste of your planting time.


Since we have all different shapes and sizes of bulbs, you can make a beautiful parfait with them. Some are tiny, while others can be as big as a softball. The big ones need to be buried deep and the small ones stay on top. So, you can plant a combination of bulbs all in the same area and they will grow in harmony next spring.

Here is the general rule of thumb for bulbs: you plant the bulb two to three times as deep as the bulb is wide. So, if your bulb is an inch wide, you should plant it three inches deep.

Tulips are usually buried eight inches deep, daffodil at seven inches, Dutch hyacinth five inches deep, crocus and daffodils are near the surface at about three inches. Iris are so close to the top that you can just toss a few handfuls of topsoil on their rhizomes and they will grow.

Start digging

After mapping your garden, dig up a large area and start with the largest bulbs at the bottom. Your hole should be at least nine inches deep if you are starting with tulips. Plant the biggest bulbs at the bottom with the root side down. If one of them tips sideways or upside down after planting, don't worry. They are so smart that they will turn themselves right side up again.

I like to plant mine a couple inches apart. This keeps the clusters of color together in my landscape for the biggest impact in the spring. And don't just plant one or two. Plant a couple dozen in one spot for the best show.

Sprinkle them with a light dusting of bone meal for winter nourishment, then cover them with soil. Now, you can add a second layer of smaller bulbs and continue the layers until you are at the top of the soil.

Blooming problems

If your bulbs didn't bloom well last season, there are some things to look for. Daffodils, tulips and hyacinths need room to roam and their blooms will start to dwindle if they don't have space to grow. If they get too tight, they don't get enough nutrition from the soil and they can even be shaded from the sun because of overcrowding.

If your tulips or hyacinths have been in the same spot for more than three years, you might need to toss them out and start over. Lilies and iris struggle if they are under-fertilized or are planted too deep.

Cannas and callas

While you are crawling around, be sure to pull out the tender root plants like cannas and calla lilies. Knock off as much soil as you can and cut off all of the green foliage except for the bottom two inches and set them on newspaper in a dry location for a couple weeks. Keep track of their bloom color and foliage type.

Once they are dry, store them in paper bags and label them. Keep them tucked away in a cool dry place until late spring.

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at