Bulbs: The Biggest and Best Bang for Your Buck

By Paul James

No other plant on the planet gives you more bang for your buck than a single, solitary, spring-flowering bulb, be it a daffodil or a hyacinth or a crocus or whatever. (Yes, I intentionally excluded tulips for the moment – more on them later.)Think about it: in most cases you shell out a buck or so for a gorgeous flower that will return year after year for decades. And in that time all the plant requires is an occasional drink and a light snack.

Spring-flowering bulbs are, in fact, among the most carefree plants you can grow, and they’re pretty much pest and disease free. They’re also a snap to plant with a trowel, mattock, auger bit, or specialty bulb planter. Once you get a rhythm going, you’ll be amazed at how fast you can get them in the ground. (I once planted 450 daffodils in a single day!)

Bulbs typically begin arriving in nurseries a month or so before the ideal planting time, and it pays to shop early to make sure you get what you want. Just store them in the garage in a paper bag and they’ll be fine for a month. As for planting times, I usually start around the first of October and finish by early November.

And just what do I plant? Well, I’ve always been partial to daffodils. They come in a dizzying array of sizes, colors, and bloom periods, and they’re one of the few bulbs gophers won’t eat. I also love Crocuses, Muscari or grape hyacinths, Iris reticulata, and Fritillarias. In recent years I’ve grown extremely fond of the Alliums for the big, bold statement they make, and pollinators love their flowers.

As for tulips, well, they aren’t among my favorites, although there’s no denying their beauty. For me, the problem is that they don’t dependably behave as perennials, although some – namely the Darwin hybrids and species tulips – often do better than others.

Where space allows, I prefer to plant bulbs in large swaths or tucked in and around other landscape plants, especially evergreens, whose foliage provides a great backdrop for the emerging flowers, and in irregular patterns around trees. I’m not a fan of planting them in rows like soldiers on parade (sure hope my neighbor isn’t reading this). One of the best tricks for creating a naturalized look in a lawn or flower bed is to place a dozen or two bulbs in a bucket and sling them out all at once, planting each bulb where it falls.