Fall is the best time to plant bulbs in the garden. (Getty Images)

Fall is the best time to plant bulbs in the garden. (Getty Images)

You don’t have to landscape with bulbs — but at least plant a few

Try planting mini tulips and daffodils, plus other minor bulbs like snowdrops and winter aconites in clumps.

When my bulb buyer was sitting down with our bulb vendor, working on our fall order of tulips, daffodils and all the other wonderful bulbs that garden centers offer this time of year, I decided it would be fun to add a few varieties for my own garden.

But instead of the packaged varieties that sit on our retail shelves, I elected to look at the landscape list, which consists of varieties sold in units of 100s and even a few of 250 each. By the time my wife and I narrowed down our choices, we had ordered no fewer than 2,500 bulbs.

While I have to confess that I was excited at the time, now that they have arrived, I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. That is a lot of bloody holes to dig, to say the least! If I actually manage to get them all planted before the end of the year, it should make for a spectacular spring. Stay tuned.

Since our garden is still in its early stages, meaning there is lots of bare ground, I wanted to make a big splash of color. So I focused on the traditional tulips and daffodils, about a dozen varieties of each.

Tulips are good bloomers for typically only a couple of seasons before they divide themselves into three smaller bulbs — and then you have to wait for a couple of years before you get a good production of flowers again.

By that time, the other shrubbery will have grown in, and the tulips will have served their purpose as fillers, and I will relocate whatever is left to the compost heap. Easy come, easy go, I suppose. They’re not worth getting attached to.

Daffodils are a little more resilient than tulips, so I plan on locating them in areas where they will have room to multiply and bloom for several years. But even daffodils have their lifespan in gardens, where constant summer water and fertilizer can cause them to rot or be infected with narcissus maggots, so I don’t expect to see voluptuous displays for more than four to five years.

Perhaps, at this point, it is prudent to interject that I consider my garden a playground where I get to try new plants and change themes from one year to the next, never allowing myself to feel like I can’t move a plant here or there. I’m always in search of the perfect combination of color, texture or symmetry.

We all know perfectly well that a garden is never finished, but rather a kinetic composition that changes with the seasons. As plants die or grow too aggressively, they need to be edited. You too should never feel like you can’t toss out a plant that just isn’t working for you.

If you can’t find a new home for it, then stick it in a pot, put it on the curb with a free sign, and I guarantee it will disappear in no time at all.

Getting back to bulbs, the last thing I want to do is leave you with the feeling that they are a bad investment — they really are quite stunning and a welcome sight come springtime. The flashy varieties just need to be thought of as more temporal. If you want staying power, then consider the smaller species tulips, cyclamineus daffodils and the myriad other minor bulbs like snowdrops, winter aconites, Scilla, Puschkinia and Chionodoxa — all of which, while seemingly insignificant as individuals, make a fabulous display when viewed in clumps.

You can purchase all of these bulbs at your favorite garden center as I write this. Another month, and they will be gone until next year. Stay safe and keep on gardening!

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at sunnysidenursery@msn.com.

Two free classes

Sunnyside Nursery’s free gardening classes are online for now. A “Happy Houseplants” class is scheduled for 10 a.m. Nov. 6, followed by a “Winter Pruning for Happy Trees” class at 11 a.m. Nov. 7 via Zoom. With registration, you’ll receive a Zoom link to attend the online class. For more information or to sign up, visit www.sunnysidenursery.net/classes.

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