Hold a few daffodil, tulip, and crocus bulbs in your hand, and you'd be hard-pressed to convince anyone that these rock-like balls have the power to deliver a profusion of color just from some sunlight and water. But if properly planted in the fall and cared for in the spring they will do just that.
If you're not familiar with gardening, it helps to think of the most basic way of dividing plants and flowers: annuals and perennials. Annuals are flowers that bloom only once; their whole lifetime lasts just one growing season. One example is pansies. You go to the nursery in spring, buy some plants already blooming, plant them in your garden or window box, and they die in the fall, never to return.
Perennials, on the other hand, keep coming back year after year; they don't die each fall, they just go dormant until the weather warms again.
Flowers from bulbs are perennials. Properly plant your bulbs in the fall, and chances are they'll provide you with blooms year after year. When you see a garden with a clump of iris or tulips or daffodils that is bushy and thick with flowers, you know those bulbs were probably planted years ago, as often the flowers multiply over the years.
When you're choosing the bulbs, think about color and size of the blooms; there should be photos of the flowers next to the bin of bulbs. For the most part, smaller bulbs produce flowers that bloom earlier in the spring, and the flowers are small, like snow-on-the-mountain or crocus. The larger bulbs, such as tulips, bloom later and produce larger blooms. Make sure the bulbs are firm, clean, and free of mold.
After you dig the holes for the bulbs, add fertilizer before replacing soil. Add plenty of water as you fill the hole back in. Mix in organic material too. Check with the nursery where you buy the bulbs about how deep and how far apart they should be planted, but as a rule of thumb, you can plant large bulbs 8 inches deep, and 6 inches apart and small bulbs 5 inches deep, 3 inches apart with all pointed ends up. Add 3 inches of mulch to retain moisture and protect the bulbs.
TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Kathy Bosin suggests, "Water well when you plant, and then check every four to five days to see if the soil has dried out. Watering everyday is a good way to make the bulbs rot."
The best time to plant is after the first frost, so the bulbs will stay cool throughout the fall and winter. What this means in terms of the calendar depends in large part on where you live, so check with your nursery about what the schedule for your area is.