This section is from the book "How To Make A Flower Garden", by Wilhelm Miller. Also available from Amazon: The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: Planting and Pruning Techniques.
Canning fall bulbs are so called because they are received and planted in the fall of the year; also in contradistinction to summer bulbs, which are planted in spring. They are nearly all imported from Holland. Millions of them are brought into this country during September, October, and November. Fall bulbs include all those early spring-flowering bulbous plants which brighten up the garden almost before the dreary days of winter are past. Crocuses, snowdrops, scillas, star of Bethlehem, narcissus, daffodils, jonquils, tulips, and Dutch hyacinths are household words.
From the little attention that these plants require, together with their cheapness, there is no reason why any one who may possess only a few feet of ground should not have and enjoy them, and extend their cultivation in grounds of more ample proportions. Their requirements are simple indeed. We plant them in the fall because it is the season in which they make their roots and establish themselves well in the ground ready to begin work in spring. All bulbs must be well rooted before active growth can take place aboveground. In this they are somewhat analogous to seeds which, when germinating, always make the roots first, so as to be able to draw nourishment from the soil to support the growth aboveground.
The depth of planting fall bulbs varies with the different species, but all should have a covering of two inches of soil above the top of the bulb. Therefore, hyacinths and narcissus should be planted five to six inches deep according to size of bulbs, tulips four inches, crocuses, snowdrops and bulbs of similar size about three inches deep.
Bulbs are not fastidious in regard to soil, though a loamy soil with a tendency to sandiness is best. The best fertiliser is thoroughly decayed farmyard manure, or ground bone meal, and only a very moderate dressing of either, which should be forked into the soil when preparing to plant.
They may be planted in the mixed flower border, or in formal beds or borders near the dwelling, or best of all (tulips and hyacinths excepted) they may be naturalised in such positions as under deciduous trees, on grassy slopes around the edges of lawns or shrubbery borders, along the edges of woods, or in any wild or semi-wild positions in company with trilliums, anemones, decentras, and many other early spring-flowering plants. A bank of crocuses under large deciduous trees or irregular colonies of daffodils along the edges of woods or on grassy banks is a beautiful sight, while snow-drops, scillas and star of Bethlehem are well adapted for naturalising along woodland paths and in open groves. In such positions they should be planted in quantities in order to be effective, and as irregular as possible, and not in square or circular colonies. Always aim to make them look as natural as possible.
When once planted, most bulbs will increase and flower each year provided the foliage is not cut off. This must be allowed to ripen off naturally, which will take until the end of June.
Tulips and hyacinths, being so highly cultivated or so far developed from the wild types, do not lend themselves well for planting in wild or semi-wild positions. They are best adapted for formal beds or borders near the dwelling. Tulips and hyacinths should not be planted together in the same border or bed, because the times of flowering differ, and unless very carefully selected and arranged the colours of the flowers will not harmonise well. Before planting, the beds should be given a dressing of fertiliser, then dug and raked very smooth. The bulbs should then be placed regularly all over the bed before they are planted, so that each bulb shall have just so much to develop - hyacinths seven inches apart, and tulips five. They should then be carefully planted and the bed left very smooth and even. The flowers of both tulips and hyacinths embrace a good range of colour, and colour designs can be made when planting. Suggestions for the same may be found in almost any bulb catalogue. It is important in planting tulips to plant the early-flowering kinds together and the late-flowering kinds by themselves, and not in the same bed.
When a bed of tulips is in bloom, every flower should be open at the same time; also with both hyacinths and tulips, the flowers should all be of an even height, to secure which the bulbs must be planted of an even depth. Beds of jonquils and daffodils are also very effective, and the bulbs require to be planted the same distance apart and the same depth as hyacinths. Crocuses, scillas and other small bulbs are more suitable for narrow borders than formal flower beds. They should be planted three inches apart.
Although fall bulbs are quite hardy, yet sometimes during the winter we have sudden thaws sufficient to excite the bulbs to grow. To prevent this, when planted in beds it is better to give them a light covering of partially decayed leaves or light mulch about two inches deep, but it should not be put on till after the ground is frozen hard, for if placed on before this mice will often nest under it and take their meals out of the bulbs. When planted in wild or semi-wild situations the natural covering of leaves and grass is sufficient.
Many people discard their tulips and hyacinths after the season of flowering is past, as they never give the same satisfaction a second season. If one has not the heart to do this, and the beds are wanted for the summer bedding plants, the bulbs should be carefully lifted, the flower stalks cut off, and the bulbs planted again closely in shallow trenches in some shaded, secluded place where they may finish ripening their foliage and may rest until fall. They may then be lifted and planted in irregular shaped colonies in the mixed flower border, where they should remain permanently. Daffodils, crocuses and other bulbs do better if they can remain in the beds when once planted, but if the beds are wanted for summer-flowering plants the bulbs may be treated the same as tulips and hyacinths.
Almost all bulb catalogues designate the kinds most suitable for bedding, together with the colours, single or double, early- or late-flowering, and quotations per dozen, per hundred, and per thousand; and while the best prices will, of course, secure the best quality of bulbs, which will produce rather the largest flowers, yet I do not ever remember to have seen a poor variety of any of the fall bulbs.