You bought spring-flowering bulbs in late summer or early fall and planted them at the recommended depth. But when spring arrived, you were disappointed. The display didn’t look lush…the colors didn’t dazzle. Or the bulbs you planted in earlier years looked good for one year—but then the show fizzled.

It’s time to change your bulb game. Here’s how…

Don’t buy cheap bulbs. Discounted bulbs at the grocery store or in bins at a big-box store tend to be a poor choice. Often, they’ve been bruised in shipping and handling, harvested at a less-than-optimum time or exposed to heat and moisture. Whether you’re buying tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, crocuses, scilla, snowdrops or ornamental alliums, invest in quality bulbs from a reputable garden center or a mail-order bulb specialist. Tip: “Dutch-grown” is a good sign.

Inspect the bulbs you buy, and use only the best of them. If buying in person, use the following points as a checklist…if ordering by mail, check the bulbs when they ­arrive and return any that don’t measure up. (Inspect through the mesh bag if need be.) What to look for…

  • Each bulb should be plump and clean (dirt brings moisture, risking rot), with no obvious damage to its dry, ­papery outer-skin layers.
  • Bulbs should have heft, not be lightweight.
  • Squeeze to confirm firmness (as you would an onion).
  • Avoid any with disfiguring dents, which can let in rot-inducing bacteria.
  • Exceptions: Ranunculus and ­anemone bulbs should look dried-up.

Favor bigger bulbs within each variety. Bigger bulbs have more stored food reserves and are more likely to produce robust flowers on substantial stems—and rebloom in ensuing years (especially daffodils and crocuses).

Give your bulbs good real estate. They do best in rich, well-draining soil, so skip low-lying spots where water collects (or areas where rain or snow melt comes off the roof). If your soil is heavy (such as clay) or light and dry (containing sand or grit), dig in organic matter such as compost…at least on a hole-by-hole basis when you plant.

Feed your bulbs right. A quality bulb has food reserves for the first year, but properly timed fertilizer can mean stouter stems and brighter, longer-lasting flowers. Mix fertilizer into the soil (don’t just sprinkle granules on top) when you plant. In spring, as growth begins, work more fertilizer into the soil. Formulations specifically labeled “for bulbs” are fine (they’re high in phosphorus, which enhances root and flower growth). Slow-release formulations are my favorite, as they enter the growing area gradually and steadily.

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