PLANTING SPRING-FLOWERING BULBS
Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, grape hyacinths, glacier lilies and crocus are adapted to most Montana climate zones (USDA zones 4 and 5). Tulips are very hardy and adapted to the cold eastern Montana climate (USDA zone 3). All should be planted in fall, usually in October or November. You can plant spring-flowering bulbs until the ground freezes, but they will bloom better if you get them in before November 15, when soil is in the 40 degrees to 55 degrees range.
Bulbs prefer a well-drained location in the garden. Tulips, hyacinths, crocus and grape hyacinths need full sun. Daffodils and glacier lilies (trout lilies) like part shade, though daffodils will grow in full sun in Montana. Daffodils are deer and rodent proof, but the others, especially tulips, need to be in a place protected from deer and voles. The new wire baskets from Vole King are flexible and easy to place around your bulbs before you plant. When a vole chews into the wire, its nose is poked by the wires curling back after being cut.
Dig your bulb bed to 10 or 12 inches deep. Sandy loam is the best soil for bulbs, but you can improve your soil by adding gypsum to break down clay, or peat moss, compost and bone meal. Bone meal degrades into the soil while it adds phosphorous, which will promote good blooms. Mix bone meal well with the soil in the bottom of the bed for best results. PH should be about neutral for these bulbs, but hyacinths and tulips will tolerate more alkaline soils. Plant tulips and daffodils at 5 per square foot, hyacinths and glacier lilies at 3 to 4 per square foot, and grape hyacinths and crocus at 8 to 10 per square foot. After planting, backfill the soil but do not pack it down over the bulbs. Water well.
The general recommended planting depth for bulbs is: 3 times the height of the bulb deep, pointed end up. Tulips, hyacinths and daffodils should be planted about 6 to 8 inches deep; Grape hyacinths, crocus and glacier lilies about 4 inches deep.
HEIGHT WHEN IN BLOOM
Our tulips grow to about 20 inches tall and bloom midseason. Our daffodils bloom early and grow and bloom to about 16 inches. Our hyacinths and glacier lilies bloom at about 10 inches, and bloom early. Our grape hyacinths bloom about 6 inches high and bloom midseason. Crocus bloom at 3 inches high and bloom very early.
Leave foliage on your bulbs and let it die down naturally. This feeds the bulbs so they will flower well the next year. Most bulbs, especially tulips, like dry conditions after foliage dies down. In some climates, or if summer bedding is planned for that location, people dig and store their tulip bulbs and replant them in fall. Here in Montana, you can leave the bulbs in the ground if you give no additional summer water. Do not water them until October to give the roots a boost before winter. Spread bone meal over your bulb beds every October. Glacier lilies like to grow in moist soil, but can tolerate dry soil conditions for a short period during late summer.
PLANTING A WILDFLOWER MEADOW
A wildflower garden or meadow will attract and feed native pollinators, beneficial insects and birds. Maintenance and watering is generally less than most gardens of ornamental plants, which require frequent watering and weeding.
NORTHERN REGION WILDFLOWER MIX is a blend of annual and perennial flowers adapted to the Montana climate. Flower height varies from about 8 inches to 5 feet. This taller mix contains both native and introduced species. Plant one pound for 2,000 square feet.
MONTANA NATIVE WILDFLOWER MIX contains only seed from plants native to Montana. This shorter mix is a combination of annuals and perennials. Flower height varies from 8 inches to 24 inches. Plant one pound for 2,000 square feet.
The best time to plant wildflower mixes is in fall. You can sow the seed mid-October into November and even into December. If the soil is prepared the seeds can be spread right over the snow, but birds or rodents may eat some of the seeds. Winter temperatures will stratify the seeds and help them to germinate at a higher rate than if planted in the spring.
Prepare your spot in full sun, if possible, or part shade. Remove weeds and grasses, cultivate lightly then rake the area smooth. Mix the seed with coarse sand to spread it evenly, in a ratio of 3 parts sand to 1 part seed. After you broadcast the seed, press it into the soil in the same way you would if you were planting grass seed. If it does not rain or snow within a week, water the area well. It is not necessary to add fertilizers, as wildflowers generally prefer a soil of low fertility.
Every summer, you can gather seed from your wildflowers and sow it right in the same bed to perpetuate the show of flowers, or you can start a new bed.