Marianne Binetti

Halloween might not feel like gardening time, but there’s lots to do, like plant bulbs

Don’t get spooked, because the end of October means it is not too late.

Not too late to mow and edge the lawn, to rake the fallen leaves from the grass, to transplant trees and shrubs and, most importantly, not too late to plant spring-blooming bulbs such as daffodils, tulips and crocuses.

Just start haunting garden centers and nurseries as bulbs will be going on sale. Here are the most asked questions about bulb planting:

Q: I have lots of voles and moles in my yard, and I am sure this is why many of the tulip bulbs I plant do not come up in the spring. Or maybe it is because you always say bulbs need good drainage and my soil is mostly clay. Please help as I do not want to go another spring without tulips in my garden. Expecting a display of tulips in the spring helps me to get through our dark and damp winters. — Sign me, “tulip failure” or better yet, “Holland Garden Wannabe”

A: Dear “Holland Garden Wannabe,” there is still time to have you tiptoeing through the tulips this spring.

Forget about your poor drainage, moles and voles. Just plant your tulip bulbs in containers, making sure they are covered with potting soil 3 to 8 inches deep. Use pots that are at least 10 inches deep with drainage holes. Use a potting soil that drains quickly. Now you have solved the drainage problem.

You can recycle old plastic nursery pots and then hide these inside baskets or more decorative containers or even dig a hole and place the plastic nursery pots into the ground once the bulbs begin to sprout in the spring.

You do not need to add fertilizer when you plant bulbs as the flower for each tulip bulb is already formed inside and just waiting to sprout after a cold winter or chilling period.

You can place bulbs in a container much closer together than when planting in the ground. Arrange the bulbs as close as 1 inch apart, and you can even layer different varieties of tulip bulbs in the same pot to stagger bloom time and tulip varieties. Leave the pots outdoors so they can chill over the winter, and the rain will water the pots for you. Protect the emerging tulip foliage from slugs and deer then invest in some wooden shoes. Holland is as close as your own backyard.

Q: Are there any spring bulbs that will flower in the shade? I want to add early spring color to my north facing patio area. — T., Tacoma

A: Yes, dwarf daffodils, hardy cyclamen, bluebells, snowdrop and lily of the valley bulbs will all flower under trees and shrubs or on the north side of a house.

You will have to make sure some of the more enthusiastic bloomers, such as the bluebells and the lily of the valley bulbs, do not steal all the real estate as over time they can grow into large colonies. Perhaps the more practical way to add spring color to your shaded corners would be by planting the heavenly hellebores. This tough perennial may be hard to find for sale in the fall but soon you will see potted, blooming hellebore plants for sale to give as holiday gift plants and these can be transplanted outdoors. Hellebores in many colors will be among the first perennials for sale at local nurseries as soon as the Christmas decorations come down.

Q: How long can you keep bulbs in the bag before planting them? I just found some that may have been hiding in my shed from more than a year ago. They look moldy. Any hope? Also, how deep to plant bulbs. — T.G., Kent

A: Hope sprouts eternal in a garden. Sometimes when I tell someone a plant won’t survive, the very idea makes a leafless shrub or diseased tree root in and go on to defy the odds.

So dig a hole and drop your bulbs into the ground. The worst that could happen is that they rot and compost in place. Keep moldy bulbs away from your healthy bulbs, however.

A good rule of green thumb is to plant any bulb three times as deep as the bulb is tall. Smaller bulbs can be just an inch or two below ground. Larger tulip and daffodil bulbs under six to eight inches of soil.

Reach Marianne Binetti through her website at or write to her at P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw WA 98022.