the varieties of outdoor bulbs we offer are adapted to Maine’s
climate. Here in Waterville we are in USDA Zone 4. Fifty miles
to the west in the mountains is Zone 3; fifty miles east on
the coast is Zone 5. We offer only varieties which will grow
in Maine. Local cold pockets, northern slopes, hills and lakes
all affect your micro-climate, and may make the large-scale
maps printed by the USDA inaccurate for your plot. Your cooperative
extension service may have maps showing local zones. Also try
hardiness zones (or for a larger, full color, more
detailed zone map.You can use rock walls and heavy mulch
to shift conditions to your advantage.
Planning and Planting
Bulbs are easy to work with, very rewarding and forgiving.
They look best planted in groups or clumps, naturalized in
the sod, under trees, or in the rock garden, bed or border.
Good drainage is essential; bulbs will grow poorly or rot
if they are too wet.
Prepare beds by mixing fertilizer, or bonemeal and wood ashes, or other phosphorus and potassium sources into the soil below the level of the bulbs. Mix in compost to lighten heavy soils and increase nutrients. Peat is acidic—use with caution. Although widely available, Holland Bulb Booster contains ingredients which are not approved for organic growers.
Plant bulbs pointed side up; generally the
depth of the hole is three times the bulb’s height.
See our chart
showing suggested planting depth and spacing. Topdress the
bed with compost. Planting small bulbs that produce fall foliage
above narcissus and tulips helps mark where the large ones
are for autumn dividing.
Mulch your bulbs with 4-6" of leaves, bark, straw, etc. after the ground freezes, especially if you plant them next to your house. Otherwise, basement heat and reflected sunlight will remove the insulating snow cover, exposing them to alternating sunny days and freezing nights, and damaging their growth tips. Wherever they’re planted, bulbs need insulation. You need to mulch unless you can depend on winter to provide a consistent heavy snow cover that will last through a January thaw. A good mulch can also give protection up to half a hardiness zone, enabling you to experiment with bulbs not quite hardy in your zone.
Do not remove the mulch too early in the spring. By keeping the soil from thawing, mulch prevents heaving and false starts in early warm spells, and delays flowering slightly for a more uniform and longer-lasting display. Remove mulch as the bulbs begin to peek through in the spring, and dress the bed with compost.
Pinch the blooms as they fade to discourage
seed production and to force the energy of the plant back
into the bulb. This is especially important for tulips and
hyacinths, which otherwise lose their vigor in 2-3 years.
Do not cut the foliage as long as it remains green; it produces the food for future blooms. Cut leaves only after they yellow. Sidedress with fertilizer or compost in late summer to mid-fall.
If squirrels, chipmunks or moles are a problem, try chicken wire or sharp gravel placed in the ground surrounding the bulbs. (Blood meal also repels many critters, but it also repels some people and attracts dogs.) Or plant Narcissus, Allium, Fritillaria or Ipheion, which critters don’t generally bother.
To disguise where we’ve recently been and disrupt squirrels’ ability to “smell out” the bulbs in new plantings, we’ve begun dusting those areas with black pepper and ground cloves in the fall right after planting the bulbs and again in the spring when growth first emerges. The odor in the yard, reminiscent of pumpkin pie, is a neat touch too.
If after several years your bulbs produce leaves but not flowers, they may be suffering from overcrowding (dig in fall, separate and replant), insufficient sun (move to new location), undernourishment (sidedress thoroughly) or marginal zone hardiness (give to a friend further south).