Dig Once, Plant Twice

Layered bulb-planting ensures a lively springtime display.

Large crocuses and early Tête-à-Tête daffodils bloom together and can be planted in the same trench.

Daffodil bulbs from half a dozen different mail order companies landed on my back porch, followed by a couple of 50-bulb tulip collections. The garden center had some new Asiatic and Oriental lilies I couldn’t pass up. And somewhere in my travels, I’d purchased a hundred or so muscari, scilla, chionodoxa, and allium bulbs. It was easy to envision the beauty of my spring garden as I thumbed through catalogs and perused the garden center bins, but getting all those bulbs into the ground takes some serious work.

My grandmother frequently chided me for “biting off more than you can chew,” especially in the garden. I can just see her now, chuckling and shaking her head at my current project.

As a regular glutton for punishment, I’ve learned some timesaving shortcuts and efficiencies in the garden, though. One of them is the trench method for planting bulbs. I find it easier to dig one big hole that’s wide enough to accommodate a group of bulbs instead of digging individual holes. A 50-bulb tulip collection, for example, needs a 10-square-foot hole, 6 to 8 inches deep. (For more on this technique, read the post Go BIG With Bulbs)

The best and most efficient part of trench planting is that it allows for bulb layering. After I set all the tulips or daffodils in the bottom of the trench, I cover them with a couple inches of soil and then plant some smaller bulbs in the same hole. Viola! Dig once and plant twice.

Peppermint Stick and tall Pink Impression tulips are a lovely combination for the bulb-layering method.

Layering is great for combining bulbs with similar bloom times to get a beautiful and easy display. Some of my favorite combos include:

Digging one hole and planting two or more bulbs that bloom in different seasons is another way to use time and space efficiently. I think of this method as “fireworks planting”: just as one bloom is finishing, another is coming up to take its place. Consider a few of these combinations:

The trick to successful bulb layering is to plant each type at the correct depth. Put the largest bulbs at the bottom and add enough soil for the next smaller bulb, and so forth. When I plant bulbs of the same size together, such as daffodils and lilies, I put them at the same depth, but may use different spacing. Daffodils, for example, are planted 6 inches apart, while Oriental lilies are spaced 10-12 inches apart.

I may be a glutton for punishment, according to Gramma, but my spring garden is a feast for the eyes!

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6 Responses to Dig Once, Plant Twice

  1. Great information on planting bulbs! Cameron

  2. MulberryBear says:

    Ann, I was even more ambitious that you when ordering bulbs this year…well over 1000. I tried to find information on layering when I was doing my planting. I plant under hostas and other perennials and so trenches are not practical. I wondered if I used a traditional bulb digger (I have a wonderful long handled one I can step on to dig a hole), if I can put the first bulb in the hole, such as a tulip or daffodil, if I can add a smaller bulb in a half filled hole before covering it? I was concerned as I am putting one bulb directly over another. I could find no information on this and did some of it…hope it works out OK!

  3. Layering will still work with a bulb digger. Wherever you have space between the perennials, try making two or three holes adjoining one another so that you can spread out the bulbs a bit and avoid crowding. If you only have room for one hole, plant the second layer of smaller bulbs against the sides of the hole. -Ann

  4. Anonymous says:

    I did this one year and lost most of my tulips. The squirrels found all the soft spot everywhere. They ate all the tulips because they are not toxic to them.The following year, I bought a bulb planter which can be put on a drill. I used them to plant large bulbs and use the diple(?) to plant smaller bulbs. This method is quick and the squirrel could not get their paws at my tulips.

  5. Tran says:

    I’m living now in Vietnam (South East of Asia). I have a bag of Tulip bulbs. But I have not just a method to plant this love tree. Could you please tell me more details of method to have this flowers on the occassion of Lunar New Year, from 24th to 30th, January 2009. Now I’m putting bulbs in the refrigator. Thanks very much and waiting for your soon reply.

  6. You can get bulbs to bloom indoors, but you’ll need more time for chilling. Tulips generally need about 12 weeks, so you won’t have them in bloom for the celebration. For details on “forcing” bulbs into bloom, check out the article at http://www.gardeners.com/Growing-Bulbs-Indoors/5158,default,pg.html-David

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