October is an excellent time to plant spring-flowering bulbs. In order to bloom in the spring, plants like crocus, tulips and daffodils need to develop roots in the fall and meet a chilling requirement over the winter.
K-State Research and Extension horticulturist Ward Upham says there are two rules-of-thumb for selecting spring-flowering bulbs.
“Get them early so you have the best selection,” said Upham. “Even if you’re not going to plant until later in October – buy them now, and choose the largest bulbs for that variety you can find. They have more stored energy which means they’re going to put on a better display.”
You’ll also want to choose a planting site that has full sun to partial shade and prepare that site so the soil is fairly loose.
“And so if you have a heavy clay soil add a lot of organic matter – things like peat moss or leaves or something like that,” Upham explained, “Really, the procedure you go through is till first, add your organic matter to the top and then till again. That gives you a greater depth of soil that’s actually worked, and you’re planting these bulbs fairly deep.”
Larger bulbs are set about six to eight inches deep, while smaller bulbs can be planted shallower, about two to three times as deep as their width. Planting in clumps or irregular masses produces a better display, so Upham warns against spacing them too far apart.
“So those larger bulbs, like daffodils and tulips, you’re gonna put four to six inches apart,” he said. “The smaller bulbs, as close as one to two inches. If you put them right next to each other that would be too much. But people don’t tend to do that. They tend to make them a little bit too wide.”
Although there will be no top growth in the fall, the roots are developing, so soil needs to be kept moist but not soggy. Once the soil has frozen, adding a two-inch layer of mulch will help prevent small bulbs from being heaved out of the ground by alternate freezing and thawing cycles.