It’s easy to…
- Have a lush, non-stop spring bulb parade
- Enjoy spring flowers in a small space
- Create fantastic containers of spring blooming bulbs
Just think lasagna!
Spring blooming bulbs are true icons of springtime, among the first to tickle our senses with the colorful and fragrant gifts of the garden. It can be a challenge to decide what to plant where, especially given that spring itself has its own seasons. Usually classed as early-spring, mid-spring and late-spring, these delineations of bloom time are crucial when creating a spring bulb garden. Add to that the mysterious ability of bulbs to move around, disappear, or be eaten, I’ve often felt disappointed by unintended holes in my spring display.
Luckily for us, Dutch bulb mavens developed what they call ‘bulb lasagna’: a way to layer your bulb plantings to create beautiful blooms all spring long, free from gaps and high in colorful flowers. Three layers of bulbs to match the three seasons of spring blooms planted all in the same area can simply bring you a full season of flowers. The possibilities are endless, and whether planted in your garden or a container, you can let your creativity be your guide. Try both methods and enjoy the colorful impact of ‘bulb lasagna.’
While at first, this may seem confusing it’s quite simple. Whether planting in the garden or a container, your considerations are the same. The main factor is bloom-time. You will want a collection of early, mid, and late spring blooming bulbs. Check the information with your bulbs to ascertain bloom times. Here’s an easy guide to bulb choice:
Large, late-spring blooming bulbs:
Medium, mid-spring blooming bulbs:
Small, early-spring blooming bulbs:
Planting depth is determined by the size of the bulb, but generally, the larger bulbs bloom later. Once you’ve selected your bulbs, simply place them into the correct layer in your planting.
Mix it up or keep it simple, the choice is yours. Consider a container of just tulips or daffodils with three different bloom times. Or a garden bed that blends from crocus, early-spring Muscari and Scilla to the mid-season tulips, daffodils and hyacinth, followed by the tall and stately late season Darwin tulips, Allium, and Foxtail Lily.
The size of the container you choose will tell you how many layers of bulbs you can plant. For instance, a 10" deep container will hold two layers of bulbs; a 14" container will hold three layers. In colder zones, consider planting your bulbs in plastic nursery pots to avoid damage to expensive pottery as they may swell and contract with the temperature. They can be slipped inside your decorative containers in spring.
- First of all, make sure your container has a drainage hole. Place a layer of gravel in the bottom of the pot, then add a thick layer (2-3") of potting soil mixed with bulb food to your pot.
- Place the first layer of bulbs in the pot, tightly spaced at about a 1/2" spacing and cover with 2" of soil.
- Next, add mid-spring bulbs that should be planted at about 6" deep. Place them close together, but allow some space for the lower bulbs to grow through (1-1 ½" apart). Don’t worry; the lower bulbs will find their way through the upper layers. Cover with 2" of soil.
- Third layer! Small bulbs that bloom in early-spring. This time cover with 3-4" of soil and a light dressing of bulb food. Mulch well and water.
- Water regularly the first few weeks as the roots develop. If you live in cold areas, where freezing can be prolonged and severe, either store your containers in a shed or garage where they will be protected from freezing solid, or wrap containers (group them) with bubble wrap and cover with branches. The bulbs should be cold, but not too cold! Ideally temperatures colder than 48° F most of the time, but not so cold that the bulbs freeze. If storing outdoors, store in the shade to avoid the drastic temperature changes that can happen on a sunny day. Alternatively, plant your pots in the ground for winter storage, allowing the earth to regulate the temperature. Wherever you store them, protect the pots from hungry mice by covering them with mesh or another pot. Keep your bulbs moderately moist, but not soggy through winter. Experimenting with different locations will help you find the place that works just right for your bulbs.
- Once the danger of severe frost is past, bring out or uncover your containers, and continue watering. Depending upon your location you may want to transition gradually. Most bulbs need a full sun location to do their best, so place your containers to maximize spring sun.
- Once the foliage yellows after flowering, just empty the bulbs from the pots, let them dry completely and store them in a cool, dry place until it’s time to replant them again. Plant them in the garden this time and start with fresh bulbs in your pots.
In the Garden..
In the garden, ‘bulb lasagna’ works best where you have well-drained, loamy soil that can be dug to a depth of 8-12" (for three layers). If your soil is not that deep, go for two layers or just plant one layer in a traditional method. If you’d like a more natural, free-form look, scatter the bulbs and plant them where they lay. Bulb lasagna is perfect for areas that can be dug, where you’ll enjoy a concentrated, colorful, non-stop display. Near a window or entry where you can enjoy it, or as a centerpiece in a slowly awakening perennial bed are ideal locations for lasagna style plantings.
- Dig the bed and amend the soil. Make sure your location will receive full sun and has good drainage. Size? It’s up to you, but as you are planting more densely, even a 2' x 1' area will work nicely. Many larger bulbs need to be planted at a depth of 8-9", so if you dig a 12" deep bed, you can loosen and enrich the soil beneath the first layer. If mice, squirrels, voles, or gophers are a problem, consider lining your hole with chicken wire. Just cut the mesh to line one length plus the sides and lay shorter pieces cross-wise. Alternatively, consider the repellent qualities of Allium, daffodil, Muscari, Fritillaria, Galanthus, and others as you plan your layout. They’ll help protect rodent favorites such as tulips and Crocus. Also, lay a piece of chicken wire over your new planting when finished to protect from squirrels as the soil resettles (squirrels love easy digging!)
- Add some bulb food to your soil and fill your hole to the desired planting depth of the first layer of bulbs. Place these bulbs in the soil, closely together but not touching (about a half inch). Cover with soil.
- Add about 2" of soil to bring your depth to about 6". Plant your second layer of bulbs, close together, but with a bit more room to accommodate the lower bulbs, 1 ½" apart.
- Cover and add soil to your top planting depth of 2-3". Here you can plant your last layer of small bulbs. Plant densely and cover with 2-3" of soil. Add some bulb food to this layer and remember to feed your bed again in the spring. Water well and regularly, if needed to help the bulbs establish good root growth.
Or, to continue the food analogy, try Parfait Planting! Dig a hole and plant a late-season bulb like Allium or tulips and, as you fill in your hole, add a few smaller, earlier bulbs such as Crocus, miniature Iris, Muscari. Done throughout a garden or landscape, it’s a labor-saving, simple way to boost spring color.
Feel free to experiment with different combinations and locations. Just the experience of planting in layers opens us to more creative possibilities and to thinking of the space below the soil as a many-layered source of spring color.
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By Katrina Godshalk
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