How to plant spring bulbs

Many types of spring bulbs are now available at nurseries and home improvement stores for fall planting.

The category "bulbs" refers to many plants with specialized roots or stem bases that grow underground. Included in this group are the true bulbs, such as daffodils, tulips and lilies; corms, such as crocuses and freesias; tubers, such as cyclamens and begonias; rhizomes, such as irises; and tuberous roots, such as dahlias. Although their structures distinguish them from one other, all are storage organs that allow the plants to survive dormancy and burst into growth in spring. However, it's important to note that in northern Nevada, tubers and tuberous roots must be planted in late spring to avoid freeze damage.

If you're ready to add some bulbs to your landscape, the first step is to choose healthy bulbs. They should be firm and fat, and feel heavy. Soft or shriveled bulbs are probably rotten. Bulbs come in different grades, according to their size. Larger bulbs yield more flowers and usually cost more. Midsize bulbs cost less, but after a year or two in the ground, they will develop more bloom capacity.

When you're ready to plant, make sure the soil provides good drainage, or your bulbs will rot. Most true bulbs and corms should be planted three times as deep as the bulb is wide. In sandy soils, plant a little deeper; in clay soils, plant a little shallower.

Loosen the soil and dig a hole a couple of inches beyond the planting depth in the area where you want to place the bulb. Put a tablespoon of a complete fertilizer in the bottom of the hole. Cover the fertilizer with 2 inches of soil or compost before placing the bulb in at the appropriate depth, pointy side up. Cover the bulb with soil, and tamp the soil to remove air pockets. When planting bulbs for a natural look, loosen the entire bed and work in a complete fertilizer before placing bulbs in the soil. One way to naturalize is to toss the bulbs in the air, and then plant them where they fall. Once the bulbs are planted, water the area deeply enough to reach below the depth of the bulbs.

Be aware that ground squirrels love to eat tulips and many other bulbs. They seem to leave daffodils and grape hyacinths alone. If ground squirrels live in your neighborhood, and you are planting tulips or other delectable bulbs, you may want to make small cages out of screening to go around each bulb. The screening should have holes wide enough for roots to grow through, but not wide enough to accommodate ground squirrels' mouths. This is a lot of work, but I wish I had taken the time to do it when I planted my beautiful red tulips. All 40 of them are now gone, thanks to the squirrels!

Information at (775) 887-2252 or, or your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Check out many useful horticulture publications at "Ask a Master Gardener" at

n JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.


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