Bulbs are a great and low-maintenance way to brighten up a garden. Many gardens around the country use their first shoots to herald the beginning of spring, and they come in a wide array of shapes, sizes, and colors to please every gardener. Planting bulbs can be a fun project for kids and beginning gardeners, and watching them emerge in the next year is deeply pleasurable.
There are a few rules to bulb planting and maintenance that will ensure years of happily blooming plants. In general, they should be planted in the fall, to give them time to fully root before the spring. October and November, before the ground has frozen but after the heat of the summer and early fall, are ideal months to plant them. When storing bulbs before planting, make sure they are in a cool, dry place.
Bulbs grow best in aerated soil that drains well. Gardeners should spade the earth to a depth around 18 inches (45 centimeters), mixing in organic material and sand if the soil is particularly heavy. Fertilizer can be added at this time as well, including phosphorus, which assists with plant's development. The bulbs should be planted at a depth approximately two times their length, with the root mass pointing downwards. It may be helpful to place markers above them so that you do not inadvertently pull up or mow new growth when it comes up.
Think about the location of your bulbs as well. Some species require more or less sun, and these needs will be outlined on the packaging. You can also stagger plantings, so that later blooming flowers hide the dying foliage of earlier growers. With the exception of very early blooming plants, like snowdrops and hyacinths, mulch the bulb bed to help with temperature regulation and to keep the bulbs moist. Remember to clear the mulch as the plants start to come up, so that growth is not impeded.
Most need to be periodically dug up and redistributed so that they don't crowd together. With some bulbs, this is only necessary every few years, and they can be left underground otherwise, although they will need to be annually fertilized. Others, especially summer bulbs, should be dug and stored every year. Digging should be done after dormancy, when all the growth has died back.
Bulbs like to be moist, but well drained. Over-watering will cause bulb rot, so make sure that the bed is aerated and draining well, and water with caution. When they are blooming, make sure that water does not come into contact with the flowers, as it may damage them, especially in the summer. Bulbs can also be forced, or grown indoors, although they tend to bloom for shorter periods of time than those grown outside.