Planting an Annual and Bulb Garden

Planting an Annual and Bulb Garden
If you have been following this series of articles, you are probably very eager to plant your first garden. Let’s start by planting area 4, located next to the deck in our landscape plan.

This area measures 3 feet deep by roughly 20 feet in length. Your plans are to have a mixture of summer blooming bulbs with a border of annuals. You’ve already decided to use a mixture of Asiatic and oriental lilies (Lilium species, and various ornamental onions (Allium species). What do you do next?

Determine How Many Bulbs are Needed

This bed is roughly 60 square feet. Subtract 20 square feet for your annual border at the front of the bed, leaving you 40 square feet to plant. Visit your favorite garden center and select the varieties of lilies and ornament onions you want to plant. Look for this information on each package: height, planting depth for bulb, and distance between bulbs.


Mixed Asiatic and Oriental lilies, 3-4 feet in height, 12 inches between bulbs, 6 inches deep

Ornamental Onion, 3 feet in height, 12 inches between bulbs, 8 inches deep

Calculate how many bulbs you need. Refer to the article entitled How Many Plants Do I Buy? if you have questions.

Since each bulb needs to be planted 12 inches apart, I’ve decided to divide the bed into squares, 1 foot on each side. This means you will need 40 bulbs to fill the 40 squares. Each bulb will be planted in the center of its square. You’ve decided to plant 15 Asiatic lilies, 15 oriental lilies, and 10 ornamental onions. Check each package of bulbs carefully to be sure they haven’t started to rot in the store. Each bulb should feel firm. Ask for assistance from the sales people at your garden center if you have concerns about bulb quality.

Planting the Bulbs

Now that you have the bulbs, excavate the 40 square feet to be used for bulbs down the 6 inches required for the lily bulbs (at least in this example, some species may vary). Save the soil in a pile to the side of your garden. Determine which of your 1 foot squares will be planted to lilies (30 in all) and which squares will be planted to ornamental onions (10). The ornamental onions need to be planted 2 inches deeper; excavate those squares an extra two inches. Be sure to consider height, putting shorter varieties in front of taller varieties. Place each bulb in the center its square. Spread an appropriate amount of “bulb fertilizer” in the root zone area. Be sure to place the root end of each bulb down so the plant doesn’t have to struggle to find its way above ground.

Tip: Be sure the soil in the root zone is loose and well-drained. If you need additional drainage, dig down an extra 3 or 4 inches and add some gravel and organic matter, mixing it well. Then plant the bulb on top of a thin layer of pea gravel to help keep the bulb from sitting in soggy soil too long after a rainstorm.

Cover the bulbs with the excavated soil. Add some time-release fertilizer following the manufacturer’s suggestions. Add a 2 or 3 inch layer of mulch on top of the soil to prevent weeds from taking over before your bulbs have a chance to grow.

What Do I Do Next?

Your next step depends on the season. If it is fall, cover the border reserved for your yearly annual display with mulch. If it is spring or summer, determine which annual plants you want to use and the number needed. Purchase them (usually by a “flat”) at your local garden store. Plant them so the roots are at the same depth they were in the flats. Cover the soil with a layer of organic mulch to help prevent weeds and to keep the soil moist.

Tip: Plants sold in flats often have roots circling the bottom of the pot. Gently loosen these roots up so they are hanging normally. Some may need to be cut back. Failure to take the time to do this means your annuals will not thrive because their roots will not seek out nutrients in the soil surrounding the plant.

Congratulations. You have planted your first garden bed. You’ll follow these same basic instructions whether you are planting a perennial bed, an annual bed or even an all bulb bed. Next week I will discuss the different mulches available. See you there!

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