Fall is bulb time, and the question is a familiar one: “When should I plant my bulbs?”
Tulips, daffodils and other spring-blooming flower bulbs need cool soil temperatures to root, so the simple answer is when the soil is 55 F. But honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever taken my soil’s temperature. Instead, I rely on the outdoor thermometer to tell me when nights consistently average between 40 and 50 F.
For some inexplicable reason, I always choose the coldest day of autumn, when the wind is whipping through the garden, setting baptisia seed pods to rattling like bones and stirring up leaves and grit that pelt my face. If my lips are turning blue and my fingers are frozen, it’s time to plant my bulbs!
Mother Nature has her own indicators for when bulb-planting time arrives, says Tim Schipper of Colorblends, the Connecticut-based bulb wholesaler. He asked his customers, which includes many landscape professionals, to share their own indicators for when it’s time to gear up and plant.
Here are a few of their suggestions:
Crickets no longer chirp
Squirrels are digging in acorns as fast as they can
Birds start to group and depart
Fall foliage is past its peak
You start turning on the heat in your car
The air smells of wood smoke
Grapes are ripening on the vine
You blow out the irrigation system before the winter freeze
Hostas start to lie down
The air has that organic, decaying leaf smell
The dog moves from a cool to a sunny spot in the yard
Kids start putting on their jackets without being nagged by you
It’s better to plant too late than too early. As long as you can work the soil, you can plant bulbs. Once the temperature is optimum, you have a six- to eight-week window to get bulbs in the ground before it freezes hard.
“It’s generally not too late to buy and plant if you can still work the soil,” Schipper says.
Plant bulbs as soon as they arrive, or store them out of the sunlight between 50 and 60 F until you can get in the garden.
They must be planted in the fall. Bulbs are not seeds; they are alive and will not last in storage.