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How to Plant Miniature Flowering Bulbs

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Miniature Daffodil Narcissus asturiensis in garden

Miniature Daffodil Narcissus asturiensis - Narcissus minimus

Photo ©2007 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.
Miniature flowering bulbs are usually the earliest of the spring bulbs. They are easily grown in containers and rock gardens where soil depth is limited. Except for tulips, bulbs planted in the correct location will increase year after. Choose bulbs suited to your area, most do well in zones 4-8 if planted in well drained soil. As they are so small, plan to plant them in large drifts, rather than isolated clumps if possible. Miniature bulbs are a colorful addition to railway gardens or fairy garden containers.
Difficulty: Easy
Time Required: Less than 20 minutes per dozen bulbs

Here's How:

  1. Choose miniature bulbs for your display and area

    Flowering bulbs bloom across a wide season. The earliest are winter aconites (eranthus), chinodoxa (glory of the snow) snowdrops, anemone blanda (Greek windflowers) and reticulated iris. You will enjoy them most if you plant them where you walk by when they are in bloom, or see them raised up in a container. With planning, a container of miniature bulbs will flower in a progression for several weeks. Combine snowdrops, miniature daffodils, grape hyacinths, winter aconites, anemone blanda, dwarf iris, and small species crocus in small clumps in mixed plantings.
  2. Choose a great location

    Most bulbs need sun, but as they are early bloomers they will do fine under deciduous trees. If you site your container where winter sun will warm the soil, or choose areas of your yard which get a bit of extra sun early in the winter, your bulbs will bloom earlier than in other sites. Make sure the site you choose is well drained during the winter months but does get some moisture, avoid roof overhangs. Winter aconites, snowdrops and anemone blanda need sites with some spring moisture so they may prefer locations shaded by deciduous trees.
  3. Plan to plant in clumps or drifts

    Bulbs look best in natural groups of at least 7 bulbs per clump. Miniature bulbs are very small, so plan for several clumps in one location. If planted correctly the clumps will increase year after year. Miniature bulbs should never be planted in single rows.
  4. Choose healthy bulbs

    Gently squeeze the bulbs and discard any which are spongy, have mold or are dried out. If you can, buy bulbs from bulk bins as soon as the bins appear in a nursery. Select the largest, firmest bulbs from the box, (making sure they are the same variety as the rest of the box) Miniature daffodils sometimes come as multiple 'nosed' bulbs which will give you more blooms for your money.
  5. Plant at the right time

    Bulbs need to be planted when the nights start to cool in fall. This allows them to establish good root systems before the ground freezes. In most locations it is best to plant them before mid November.
  6. Presoak bulbs which need it

    Snowdrops and anemone blanda need to be presoaked before planting or they will not grow. Soak them in water for a minimum of 8 hours or overnight before planting.
  7. Dig the soil well

    Bulbs are not heavy feeders, plant them in well drained sandy, not heavy clay soil, at a depth of roughly three times the height of the bulb. Plant them deeper in colder areas. Dig the hole 1 1/2 times as deep as the bulbs need. Put bone meal or phosphate fertilizer into the bottom of the hole to encourage strong growth. Do not sprinkle bone meal on the soil surface. It attracts rodents who will dig and eat your bulbs! Cover the fertilizer with soil to create the correct planting depth for your bulbs.
  8. Arrange the bulbs in clumps or drifts

    For larger areas it works well to gently scatter miniature bulbs on the ground and plant them where they fall for more natural effect. If you are not planting large areas, or if you are planting in containers, group the bulbs in clumps. For container planting bulbs can be planted touching each other and stacked in staggered layers of bulbs up to three deep for a better flowering display.
  9. Plant right side up

    Daffodils, tulips, iris and snowdrops have pointed ends at the top where the stem develops. Crocus have a flat bottom to their corms, and anemone blanda look like clumps of dried earth, with a slight depression filled with tiny hairs where the stems emerge. For anemone blanda, plant the corms on their sides, if you can't see the tiny hairs for the stems
  10. Cover the bulbs

    Cover the bulbs well with soil, and water the site thoroughly to help the soil settle down. After planting, only water the bulbs if the season is unusually dry or if they are planted in containers where they don't get natural moisture.
  11. Mark the site

    Make sure you mark the site of your miniature bulb plantings. These tiny bulbs are easily dug up by mistake when the flowers die back, so mark their locations well.

Tips:

  1. Start with One or Two Bulb Varieties:

    If you are new to using miniature bulbs the selection can be overwhelming. Plant a lot of only one variety the first year and add new types of bulbs to your planting each year. That way you will notice which bulbs do best, you won't need to worry about different care requirements for different bulbs, and you will start with a great show that will get better each year as you expand it. Small species crocus or miniature daffodils are easy for beginners.
  2. Choose the Right Site:

    Miniature flower bulbs get swamped by their larger cousins, use them as groundcover in large drifts, or site them in easily viewed locations where you will enjoy their early spring bloom.
  3. Watch Out For Slugs!:

    Miniature bulbs disappear fast if there are slugs around. Make sure you clear away dead growth near your miniature bulbs in spring before the slugs move in.
  4. After They Flower:

    Cut dead flowers off larger miniatures like daffodils to prevent seed formation from weakening the bulb. Let the foliage of all varieties die back naturally in order to make sure they have enough strength to produce flowers next year. Leave the clumps undisturbed to increase naturally.

What You Need

  • Bulbs (enough for your display)
  • Trowel or Spade
  • Bone Meal or Phosphate Fertilizer
  • Water
  • Site Markers
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