spring bulb planting


1. Can i plant now (sept 30) ? or can I wait till November?
2. is it OK to plant deeper than bulb label suggests ? I’m trying to foil the squirrels
3. Should I add bonemeal in the planting holes?
4.Should I use chicken wire on the surface?


Thank you for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners with your inquiry concerning planting of spring bulbs.

We field numerous questions regarding bulbs, when to plant and how to deter rodents such as squirrels from digging up the bulbs. The following information is pertinent information from a number of our archived posts:

Many plants, especially bulbs, require a long period of deep cold before they can flower in the spring. This process is called vernalization and is true for many other groups of plants. Many tree seeds also often require vernalization before they can germinate. This system protects the new plant and ensures they only germinate or flower under optimal conditions.

Typically in Toronto, spring flowering bulbs are planted in the fall before the ground freezes. The optimal time is 6 weeks before the freeze which, in Toronto, is around the beginning of October. Spring flowering bulbs overwinter in the ground and this sustained period of dormancy is necessary to allow the bulbs time to establish roots and develop flowers before they begin to sprout in the spring. Most spring flowering bulbs are hardy, which means they do not need to be dug up and stored at the end of the flowering season, unlike tender summer flowering bulbs. Check that you order bulbs that are suited to growing in the Canadian Hardiness Zones 1-5 to be sure that they are hardy enough to leave in the ground year round.

The general rule for hole depth is three times deeper than the diameter of the bulb. Plant the bulbs, pointy side up, in well drained, compost rich soil.  Most bulbs prefer a sunny position. Adding bone meal to the soil at the base of the hole, and mixing it well in, will encourage root growth and deter rodents.

Fertilizing your bulbs when they emerge in the spring, and after the blooms are finished, will help to keep them healthy.

“You are quite right in being concerned about squirrels, as they are notoriously fond of tulip bulbs, and you mention that you live close to their natural habitat. But you aren’t alone with this concern, and Toronto Master Gardeners has written a very informative Guide titled: Growing Tulips. Therein, under the section on “Diseases and Pests”,  you will find several preventative measures which you may choose to deploy alone, or in conjunction with one another.

First, a gardener identifies the pest: in the Toronto area the Eastern Grey Squirrel is medium-sized, bushy-tailed, and has two common colour phases: black and grey. Fall is also the time when grey squirrels prepare for winter by burying seeds and nuts. While not all of their stash will be found, their keen sense of smell allows them to recover a good 85 per cent the following spring.

So, you could use this sharp olfactory characteristic to your advantage, and utilize often-preferred biological controls such as:

1. Planting other bulbs, such as daffodils, allium or fritillarias, or all, to your plot— if this fits in with your garden vision. Daffodil bulbs, and leaves, contain poisonous crystals which only certain insects can eat with impunity, and squirrels avoid. Allium (the Latin word for garlic) has a smell that resembles onions, again, a deterrent, and ‘frits’ contain poisonous alkaloids that produce a pungent, skunk-like odor that repels squirrels — and deer, while you’re at it !

2. And remember to clean up all remnants of discarded bulb skins after planting, as their presence, and smell, will prompt squirrels to dig for buried treasure;

3. Sprinkle blood meal around the plantings: blood meal contains high levels of nitrogen and ammonia. Again, the smell will drive squirrels away;

In addition to these biological controls, there’s always the cheap-and-cheerful option to spread chicken wire over your planted bed, and let the bulbs grow up through the wire, no need to remove.