In daily life, we all face two opposite and important challenges. First, we need to learn to live in the moment: we need to “stop and smell the roses,” even if it means figuring out how to find the rose needle in a haystack of skunks. At the other extreme, we need to look beyond the immediacy of the moment and prepare for changes sure to come in the future: if we don’t split and stack our firewood, we will have no fireside moments. In life, one way to prepare for the future is to watch the future come to others and project how it might come to ourselves. In our landscapes, however, we have the advantage of preparing for the future by remembering the past.
Currently, I am turning my mental clock back just six months. In my mind’s eye, I can clearly see a property in Fleetville. While the grass is just starting to show hints of green, there are no leaves on the trees or shrubs, so the peripheral woodland floor lies brown and naked next to the emerging living carpet of lawn. Because, however, someone thought ahead—probably many years ago—at the woods’ edge shine hundreds and hundreds of daffodils. Among the decaying remnants of a now forgotten fall, these green lighthouses, capped by yellow and white lanterns, point the way forward to the promise of spring’s burst of life. With such glory, I am always surprised each spring, why more landscapes do not include more maintenance-free bulb plantings. For any who “fall into forward thinking,” here are some suggestions for daffodil planting.
As far as I am concerned, there are only two good ways to plant daffodils in a landscape. First, you can plant individual bulbs — and we use a small auger to speed this up. But — and this is a huge “but” — individual bulbs should not be planted individually. Instead, they should permeate an entire area. In other words, they have to fill an entire area. Ideally, this area is an open spot with borders: lawn, brush, etc. This is a good use for mixed bulbs. But remember that bloom time will be spread over several weeks, so the flower effect will be diminished unless you plant a significant amount over a significant area.
Second, you can plant them in bunches. We dig holes and plant them in groups of five to 25 or so, depending on the site and how many bulbs we have. Keep the clumps an average 4 feet apart, and use at least three clumps. Additionally, consider planting two varieties with two different bloom times.
While daffodils are perennial and deer proof, critters will get other bulbs. Crocuses naturalize well enough to persist, but tulips will not continue to thrive in a landscape.
Fall forward to spring bulb planting.
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Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified municipal specialist, Clarks Summit’s municipal arborist and an operator of an organic lawn and landscape maintenance business.