Planting bulbs: the job gardeners love to hate

At the top of my list of garden jobs I detest doing but are absolutely worth the effort is planting bulbs in fall. Planting in general is one of my favorite garden jobs, but there’s no immediate payoff when planting bulbs. Instead, you wait for months — long enough to fully forget what you planted where — to see the fruits of your labors.

It’s for this reason that I put off bulb planting until late fall, and it’s usually the last big thing I do in the garden. I’m pretty sure I’ve had bulb planting-induced frostbite on more than one occasion.

I’ve discovered a few methods that make bulb planting less painful.

The first is to plant in groupings by digging a large hole and filling it with bulbs. Instead of planting one bulb at a time, plant 10 to 15 in one hole. This not only makes relatively quick work of a large bulb order, it also creates a very natural look in the garden, making bulbs look like they’ve been planted long enough to naturalize.

I like to plant a couple of different daffodil varieties with slightly different bloom times along with a few grape hyacinth (Muscari) in a single large hole. Adding a few additional bulbs that trickle out from the large cluster add to the natural look.

This works best in newer garden beds where there’s room between plants to fit in lots of bulbs.

For one-bulb-at-a-time planting, I’m convinced an auger is the only way to go. My favorite is a 3-inch-diameter auger with at least a 24-inch shaft on an 18-volt cordless drill. This setup allows quick planting without much bending over and an increased likelihood of eliciting help from a friend who thinks power tools make everything more fun. He isn’t wrong, by the way.

If you’ve ever received a bulb catalog, you know that spring-blooming bulbs come in a wide range of varieties from beautiful (but delicious to critters) tulips to whimsical alliums and exotic fritillarias. But I put the bulk of my bulb-planting labors into daffodils, which come in enough different shapes, sizes, colors and bloom times that I don’t find myself needing much more, particularly since they are deer and rabbit proof.

Bulb planting is a bore, but you’ll never regret it come spring. This was fabulously demonstrated many years ago when the Port Washington Garden Club organized a mass planting of daffodils around the city. Come spring, the city was full of bright yellow flowers planted everywhere from parks and public spaces to private gardens. It took an army of volunteers, and it was worth it.

The garden club is selling the same variety of daffodils it planted then — Dutch Master — this year to help bring that spring color to yards and gardens. Go to to buy the bulbs for pickup or delivery in Port Washington.

Ozaukee Master Gardeners is also doing a bulb fundraiser. The organization will receive a commission from purchases at Brent and Becky’s through this link:


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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