Fall bulb planting will ensure a colorful spring garden


Daffodils aren’t just beautiful. The sap, flowers and leaves of daffodils taste bitter, so deer and other critters leave them alone.

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October is a good time to plant bulbs in Western Washington. Planting the bulbs of daffodils, tulips and crocus in the fall means spring blooms when you most need it after the dark days of winter.

But what bulbs to buy? Any bulbs you see for sale at local nurseries can be planted now. The general rule of green thumb is to plant bulbs three times as deep as the width of the bulb, so the bigger the bulb, the deeper you plant.

Bulbs are forgiving and adaptable to soils and sun but they must have good drainage. This means they prefer fast draining or sandy soil, or to grow in mounds, on slopes or in raised beds.

Best bulb to plant if you have deer, moles or voles?

Daffodils. The sap, flowers and leaves of daffodils taste bitter so you won’t be sharing the blooms with Bambi or mice/voles. You may still need to protect the petals from slugs.

Designing with daffodils: My personal favorite daffodils are the dwarfs. The varieties February Gold and Tete a Tete may be short at under 6 inches, but these are loyal little dwarfs, returning year after year as they spread out in polite colonies.

Plant daffodils under deciduous trees and shrubs. Daffodils can handle some shade, so use them under the skirts of rhododendrons and camellias.

If you have window boxes or small pots to fill, poke in a few dwarf daffodil bulbs now. You’ll have early spring color before the annual flowers even show up at nurseries.

Best bulbs for that formal show garden look?

Tulips. The intense color options and cup-shaped blooms make tulips the most loved flowering bulb.

Design tips for tulips: Deer and mice love tulips, so consider planting a group of tulips in containers that can be protected from deer.

An easy way to recycle potting soil is to uproot you summer-weary annuals such as coleus, petunias and geraniums from patio pots, loosen up the potting soil in those containers, and poke in the tulip bulbs. You can top this with winter pansies or even sprigs of holly to keep out cats and give some winter color. Remove the cut evergreens in spring as the bulb tips emerge.

A tub of tulips near the front door or on the back patio will be a welcome exclamation point to your garden design in the spring. No need to add fertilizer when planting as the flower is already formed inside the bulb.

My favorite tulips are the double varieties with peony-like blooms such as Angelique with pastel pink blooms, or Mount Tacoma, a double-petaled white. Both of these are shorter at around a foot tall, so they handle our spring wind and rains.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.