A reader has a sunny acre of land in rural northern Baltimore County and had the idea to plant it entirely with crocuses, daffodils, narcissus, and tulips. But after surveying the overgrown tract, he asked for advice on how—and when—to create his field of dreams.
The good news: Fall is the ideal time to plant these hundreds of bulbs. The other news: It's a big undertaking, and it's best to start small.
I'd suggest working an area just 40 feet square. Cut down the weeds to a short stubble, then divide the area into as many as 20 beds—long narrow strips, about a foot wide, with a grass strip between each for tending the plants. Dig up the remaining grass in the beds and mix into the clay, while removing large stones. Here, a sketch on paper is useful and you may need a calculator.
Now, estimate how many square feet of organic-rich soil you'll need. Extension services often offer leaf mulch or manure at no cost. Initially, you may want to order one truck load to figure out how far it goes.
Next, go shopping for your spring-blooming bulbs (yes, the variety is overwhelming), but stay away from hybrids, since they're often sensitive and not always winter-hardy.
How many bulbs are needed depends on how many you want per cluster and how far apart the clusters are. One thousand bulbs planted in clusters of five and spread 12 inches apart is fine. But planting in clusters of 10 increases the yield.
Choose bulbs that are firm to the touch. Plant them pointed side up and eight inches deep in organic-rich soil. You might consider planting a variety of fragrant herbs and flowers in the spaces between bulb clusters. This will deter a variety of critters that like to eat the bulbs and/or the blooms. Toxic daffodils and narcissus are safe, but tulips are a gourmet item for squirrels and moles, while crocuses often are just bitten off and left to die. One long row could look like this: tulip bulbs, spearmint, daffodil bulbs, marigolds, tulip bulbs, fennel, narcissus bulbs, rosemary, and so on. The fragrant herbs will spread over time and will need weeding, but will enrich the soil.
Make sure to plant your bulbs after a heavy rain. Then just sit back and pray for spring.