Plant daffodils/tulips 1ft deep avoid frost heave (CiscoeMorris)

wynswrld98(z7 WA)November 9, 2009

I watch Ciscoe Morris' weekly gardening show on TV, he recently had a story about problems with bulbs (he was specifically talking about tulips) in our area blooming for one year then disappointing results (few come up next year, of them many don't bloom but worse most don't come up), etc.

He said the answer to it is to plant the bulbs 12" (yes 12" deep). I think he said frost heave is a big problem here and this helps avoid it and he obviously stated well drained soil a must or else they'll rot.

I've had disappointing results with tulips where I do get them to bloom nice one year but then hardly any the following year just like Ciscoe says but I haven't been planting them more than 4-6" deep (bottom of hole depth) and have had similar problems with daffodils over time whereby they stop coming up or those that do come up don't bloom.

Anyway I was considering trying what Ciscoe recommends and do it both for tulips and daffodils -- 12" hole with some bulb fertilizer/compost mixed with soil at bottom of hole then bulb then sand to try and keep soil light so they don't rot.

I'm curious if anyone has tried planting bulbs this deep and if anyone can elaborate on what frost heave does to bulbs (moves them towards soil surface then frost damages the bulbs?) that would be great!

Thanks in advance!

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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Frost heaving is a feature of colder climates that ours. Tulips do like deep planting but the 3 times the diameter of the bulb method should be adequate for most situations. Daffodils are sometimes diminished by narcissus bulb fly, I apparently got past this by fertilizing the bulbs - so I may have been having two problems, reduction of the planting by maggots tunneling out the bulbs and insufficient fertility for the bulbs to multiply and maintain their size. Large-flowered garden forms of bulbs often need fertilization to perform.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 12:14AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

Are you really in an area where the soil freezes 6 inches down? I didn't think it got that cold in places like Seattle, and wouldn't think that frost heave would be a consideration for any bulbs planted at least 6 inches deep. More likely the problems with the tulip bulbs is not staying dry in summer, and not getting enough winter chilling in the ground in winter.

I've never seen any problem with frost heave of bulbs around Lake Tahoe, where it gets much colder than Seattle in winter, and commercial plantings right along the lake shore certainly don't stay covered by snow all winter, so they would be subject to frost heave at some point. People don't tend to plant any deeper than about 5 to 8 inches for bulbs because of all the rocks, and even so, one doesn't see problems with Narcissus, which naturalize readily at Tahoe. Cisco may be a local garden expert, but this statement doesn't seem to make sense to me...

    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 12:15AM
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jean001(z8aPortland, OR)

Very unlikely to have frost heave in your region.

The most common reason tulips don't return yearly is that they are watered during the summer.

That said, If you choose wisely, you will have tulips return. That is, if the squirrels don't find them!

    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 2:05AM
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wynswrld98(z7 WA)

I'm not positive Ciscoe sited frost heave as the reason for having to plant the bulbs 12" deep but he most definitely stated 12" deep is what he recommends to get them to return in our area here in greater Seattle area.

bboy: I have wondered about fertilizing in subsequent years but wasn't sure exactly how to do it -- when they're first planted it's a no brainer since the fertilizer can go in the hole with the bulb but in subsequent years what's the way to go? A thick layer of something like Cedar Grove Compost above the bulbs so it slowly brings nutrients down to the soil? or ???

Where I have the bulbs planted there is NO summer irrigation anywhere near them so whatever they get they get from mother nature. I was mentioning putting sand in the hole when I plant more very soon as a way to try and keep the soil to dry out -- thoughts on that plan?? Many of the bulbs don't come up at all in subsequent years so I'm not so sure them multiplying would be the problem -- I would think they would come up in some form, perhaps small if they'd multiplied vs. nothing. I'm trying to cover all bases to lead to long-term success.


    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 3:48AM
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There is no frost heave problem, not even in New Jersey, where I used to grow bulbs. He may be right about planting them 12" deep, I don't know. I've never tried it. Is this the same guy who said you need to freeze pea seeds?

Daffodils and tulips need a lot of sun to build the next year's bulb. Tulips need more sun than daffs. Daffs will grow in just about any soil, but tulips need sand to sandy loam. If the soil is sandy enough, they can take summer watering.

I sprinkle a little dolomite lime on the ground in early spring, just as the shoots are coming out of the ground. I also give them a little balanced fertilizer at the same time. Bone meal is OK too, but is not as balanced as 5-10-10 or something like that. And bone meal doesn't have much potassium, which the bulbs need. I know you're not supposed to mix lime and nitrogen fertilizer, because some of the nitrogen is lost, but I don't worry about it, since the bulbs don't need much nitrogen anyway.

As bboy pointed out, daffs can be attacked by Narcissus bulb fly. When you dig the infested bulbs in late summer, you will see that the center of the bulb is rotted and black. Discard the damaged bulbs. Google it to find out more about control. Nasty chemicals are involved.

If you're successful, crowded clumps of bulbs will develop. You will need to replant them occasionally, or they will stop blooming.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 11:00AM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

No frost heave here, my soil doesn't freeze.

Oct 2009, Seattle Times, Ciscoe Morris
"Most folks consider tulips an annual flower and replace them every fall because they rarely return and bloom well after the first year. Tulips come from the high mountains of the "stan" countries (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, etc.), where they rest comfortably under a thick blanket of snow all winter long.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, if the tulips don't rot in the cold, wet ground, they tend to divide. The mother wipes herself out making babies, but the new bulbs never mature to bloom in our less than perfect conditions.

One trick that has worked well for me is to plant the base of the tulips 12 inches deep. This method succeeds best with Darwin and Empress hybrid tulips, and a few other varieties such as "Queen of the Night," and only works if you have well-drained soil.

Another method that works is to plant species tulips. Smaller in stature, these colorful little tulips often naturalize and come back year after year where the bigger hybrids fail."

The only time I've seen frost heave is in outlying areas, along the banks of newly constructed logging roads - an interesting pattern but I wouldn't necessarily want it in my garden beds :)

Here is a link that might be useful: Frost heave

    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 12:02PM
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Gardening information from Ciscoe needs to be taken with a large grain of salt :-) He is sometimes way off the mark with his advice.

The reasons tulips tend not perennialize well is generally attributed to heavy hybridizing. That feature has mostly been bred out of them - the exceptions are the species tulips, which tend to return quite faithfully year after year. The Darwin hybrids tend to have greater staying power than most others as well, but they too will peter out after a couple of seasons. The other large contributing factor is too much moisture during the summer. Most spring flowering bulbs prefer to remain on the dry side during their dormant period and if planted among other plants that receive regular summer irrigation, they often just rot away.

I don't find a lot of fertilizing necessary with most bulbs (lilies being the exception). If one allows the foliage to ripen sufficiently before removal, they are typically able to store necessary nutrients and energy reserves in the bulbs themselves. Otherwise, a light application of bulb or all-purpose fertilizer around the leaves as they emerge in spring is typically more than adequate.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 12:14PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

As with all fertilization the soil of each planting site either has adequate nutrients for the planting or it does not. Nitrogen is the nutrient most often depleted in cultivated soils in coastal regions. After I started putting lawn fertilizer on those daffodils I got a tremendous improvement, a taste of what daffodil plantings are supposed to be doing.

That cherry red tulip with the fantastic blue interior base that van Bloems promoted for a short time, then apparently dropped maintained full production for me for several years, then diminished and disappeared. Years back we had a large tomato red tulip with the more usual black-and-yellow base persist for a long time, although these did not clump up.

We know with the right handling that our conditions are just fine for tulips because these are grown commercially in western Washington.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 1:47PM
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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

I have some yellow tulips that have persisted for well over five years, probably closer to ten. They weren't planted that deep, the soil wasn't amended and they have not formed clumps. No clue if they are Darwins or not.

My species tulips have formed clumps and some are over ten years old.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 2:42PM
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wynswrld98(z7 WA)

thanks morz8 for posting the quote from Ciscoe!!

    Bookmark   November 10, 2009 at 9:31PM
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