Site and Soil
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Most spring-flowering bulbs do well the first year regardless of where they are planted. Most of what they need to thrive is packaged right in the bulb. For bulbs to come back and flower in subsequent years, you need to pay careful attention to the site and soil.

Most bulbs need well-drained soil. (Camassia is an exception that does well in wet, almost swampy areas.) Do not plant bulbs in areas where there is standing water, especially during the spring thaw.

Most bulbs need full sun -- at least 5 to 6 hours of direct sun daily-- if they are to thrive from year to year. For best flowering, 8 to 10 hours of sun is even better.

Planting bulbs beneath large trees is seldom a good idea because of the dense shade and competition from tree roots. Daffodils, other early-flowering bulbs, and even some early-flowering tulips may be exceptions. While they still face competition from the tree for nutrients and water, they have a chance to photosynthesize before the leaves return to the tree and shade them out.

If deer are a problem where you garden, choose species that deer tend to avoid. For example, deer love tulips but generally do not eat daffodils.

Because spring-flowering bulbs will grow in the same spot for several years, it's very important to do a good job of soil preparation before planting, keeping in mind the importance of good drainage. Tender summer bulbs also need well-prepared soil to thrive.

Contact your local Extension office for information about how to test your soil to find out your pH and nutrient levels. They may suggest a more complete soil test from the Cornell Nutrient Analysis Lab. Follow the directions on your soil test report about adding lime to increase pH or adding fertilizer to correct nutrient deficiencies.

Start preparing soil in summer for fall planting of spring-flowering bulbs. For tender summer-flowering bulbs, prepare soil the previous fall or in early spring. Spade or loosen the soil 8 to 12 inches deep. (The site should be level or gently sloped to keep soil from eroding.) Add organic matter (such as well-rotted manure) at a rate of about 3 bushels per 100 square feet and work it into the top 8 inches of soil. This is especially important for improving drainage in heavy clay soils. Avoid fresh manure as it may injure bulbs. Apply about 1 pound per 100 square feet of low-nitrogen fertilizer such as 5-10-5 or 5-10-10 or an equivalent organic source and work it into the top 4 to 6 inches of soil.

Site and Soil