Q: I bought a few tulips and crocus bulbs last summer on an advance order, and they said they would be shipped just in time for planting. Does that mean I can plant them now?
I’m afraid not. You’ll have a window of opportunity in the coming weeks, and, as usual, it all depends of the weather. Wait until night air temperatures are regularly in the 40- to 50-degree range — then the soil will be about 50 degrees, which is perfect for bulbs. If soil is wet, it could cool down a few days sooner — wet earth is colder than dry earth.
Your bulbs need to develop good roots this fall before the ground freezes — but the ground has to be cold enough to put them to sleep, not warm them up, which could stimulate too much top growth and even cause them to bloom this fall. For now, store any bulbs in the coolest and darkest place in the house or cellar, and wait a few weeks. In the meantime, plan your planting. If bulbs are sprouting, move them into the refrigerator and carefully plant them as soon as ground temperatures make it possible. Once the lower temps are met, your ideal planting time will last no more than eight weeks after the first frost. If your bulbs are late in arriving, you can plant until the ground freezes. My latest bulb planting was done on a Thanksgiving weekend in a sleet storm and wearing mittens — I remember it was cold and not a pleasant job to do!
If you look to Mother Nature for your planting signs, then plant bulbs when the fall leaves have just passed their peak.
TIP: Invest in a bulb augur for your electric drill — it’s a large drill bit used to easily drill holes for bulbs and other mass plantings. You’ll be amazed when you see how fast a mass planting of bulbs in the fall or small annuals next spring can be. It’s particularly good for use in cold, sandy, root-filled and rocky soil. This is a tool you might share with a neighbor.