The best place to purchase bulbs is at your favorite nursery. You can inspect them, purchasing only the best ones. Bulbs vary in size and quality, so look carefully before you buy ... generally, the larger bulbs will produce more flowers at blooming time.
Much like selecting fruit at the market, choose firm bulbs, avoiding the mushy ones. Do not buy bulbs that are obviously infested with either insects or diseases. Prior to planting, tulip, daffodil and crocus bulbs should be chilled (not frozen) in the refrigerator for eight weeks.
Most bulbs prefer a sunny locale and a soil that is not too acid; a pH of 6.5 to 7.0 is ideal. It is important that the soil drains well; bulbs can rot if they sit in a soggy soil. Heavy, clay soils can be improved by adding redwood compost, peat moss or leaf mold. Unlike nitrogen, phosphorous moves slowly downward, so super phosphate or bone meal should be added at the depth of the future root zone of the bulbs. You are now ready to plant.
The general rule that a bulb should be planted at a depth equal to twice its width is usually safe. However, in light sandy soils, they should be planted a little deeper, and in heavier soils, a little shallower. Tall growers, such as gladiolus and lilies, need the extra support of deep planting to ensure they grow upright. Even then, some bulbs often require stakes for support.
The best time to apply fertilizer is when the first shoots appear. A low nitrogen "bloom" fertilizer is better for bulbs than one high in nitrogen. An organic mulch to cover the bulbs helps to keep the weeds down, retains moisture, and improves the general soil condition and appearance.
Besides the obvious use of bulbs in garden beds and pots, they are successful in informal lawns and forgotten areas of your garden. Masses of blooms remind one to take advantage of the entire garden. Narcissus and hyacinth can be grown in water and pebbles, bringing wonderful flowers and fragrance indoors.
It seems natural that I should cultivate bulbs with Catharine; it is part of our shared garden magic to anticipate their yearly return. Their prodigious display and brilliance of color have shown us that, prior to narcissi and daffodils, our garden collection of annual and perennial flowers was never entirely complete or satisfactory. See you next time.
Steve Kawaratani is happily married to local writer Catharine Cooper, and has two cats and three dogs. He can be reached at (949) 497-2438 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.