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Growing bulbs in Calgary

It’s time to think about fall bulbs and planning for your spring display! There is quite a selection these days in comparison to what Grandma used to plant. Tulips with fringes, stripes, ruffle, from white to pink to nearly black! There are tall, short, low growing ones even, with multi coloured open faces! The term bulb doesn’t only refer to tulips and daffodils but includes many plant species such as lilies, corms, tubers, tuberous roots, and rhizomes. Bulbs are generally very reliable, low maintenance and can start blooming while the snow is still melting!

If you have never planted them before here are a few guidelines to help you get started.

*the smaller the bulb the more required for a good showing

*large and medium bulbs are generally a better buy

*examine bulbs carefully and choose ones that are plump and firm, and show no signs of injury

When planting…
*The bulb should be covered with twice its own depth of soil. (If planted too deep you will have foliage but weak or absent blooms) The exception being irises which only need to be planted just below the soils surface.

*Most bulbs need to be planted with the pointy end up but if there is no pointy end but there is eyes and buds, plant with these facing up

*When planting consider amending your soil with organic matter, a bulb booster fertilizer (9-8-6), or bone meal.



Plant crocus, scillas and narcissi from Sept. to mid-October, tulips from mid October to mid November but if you miss these windows you can still plant until the ground is frozen — they will just flower later. Consider location when planting…As early flowering bulbs have finished their cycle before most of the garden gets going, consider planting around your larger perennials where the fallen bulb foliage will be masked after blooming. Never cut back the foliage after blooming even if it is yellow as leaving them will strengthen the bulb for next year.

Tulips   Tulips and narcissi for example grow to be 12-24 inches so can be placed further back in the garden which will in turn help the withering foliage to be masked by perennials.

Not all bulbs are spring flowering, so be sure to check the package and make sure you are getting the timing that you want as some bloom through out the summer.




Crocuses are shallow rooted so are great planted in drifts around evergreen shrubs as they won’t compete with their root system.




Allium My personal favourite are alliums. The allium giganteum ‘Globemaster’ has a purple puff ball  bloom which grows up to ten inches across on 36 inch tall stems. The best part is even after the  bloom fades, the flower structure remains for a brilliant fall and winter display.





With the availability of such a variety in colours, textures and sizes and their low maintenance requirements, bulbs deserve consideration for your garden. If you don’t like them where you planted them this year they are quite happy to be lifted and moved elsewhere for next summer!

Author: Colleen Tanner


Common Name Latin Name USDA Hardiness Zone Preferred Soil Type Spacing Planting Depth Blooming Season Height of Plant Suggestions
Bluebell Hyacinthoides 4-9 Well drained/fertile 4″ 3-4″ Spring 8-20″ Excellent for borders and rock gardens
Christmas Rose Helleborus 4-8 Neutral-Alkaline 18 1-2″ Spring 12″ Requires shelter from strong winds
Crocus Crocus 3-8 Well drained/fertile/moist 4″ 3″ Early spring 5″ Naturalises well in grass
Daffodil Narcissus 3-10 Well drained/fertile/moist 6″ 6″ Early spring 14-24″ Plant under shrubs or in a border
Fritillary Fritillaria 3-9 Well drained/sandy 3″ 3″ Mid-spring 6-30″ Good for rock gardens and borders
Glory of the Snow Chionodoxa 3-9 Well drained/moist 3″ 3″ Spring 4-10″ Self-sows easily
Grape Hyacinth Muscari 4-10 Well drained/moist/fertile 3-4″ 2-3″ Late winter to spring 6-12″ Self-sows, use for borders
Bearded Iris Iris 3-9 Well drained 4″ 4″ Early spring to early summer 3-48″ Good for cut flowers and naturalising
Siberian Iris Iris 4-9 Well drained 4″ 4″ Early spring to midsummer 18-48″ Good for cut flowers
Ornamental Onion Allium 3-10 Well drained/moist/fertile 12″ 3-4″ Late spring to early summer 6-60″ Good for cut flowers, tends to be pest-free
Snowdrop Galanthus 3-9 Well drained/moist/fertile 3″ 3″ Spring 6-12″ Best when clustered in a moist area
Snowflake Leucojum 5-9 Well drained/moist/sandy 4″ 4″ Spring 6-18″ Naturalises well
Spring Starflower Ipheion 6-9 Well drained loam 3-6″ 3″ Spring 4-6″ Naturalises easily, fragrant
Star of Bethlehem Ornithogalum 5-10 Well drained/moist 2-5″ 4″ Spring to Summer 6-24″ In our zone you must plant in spring and lift in fall
Striped Squill Puschkinia scilloides 3-9 Well drained 6″ 3″ Spring 4-6″ Naturalises Easily, good for edging
Tulip Tulipa 4-8 Well drained/fertile 3-6″ 4-6″ Early to late spring 8-30″ Borders, rock gardens, naturalising
Winter aconite Eranthis 4-9 Well drained/moist/fertile 3″ 2-3″ Late Winter to Spring 2-4″ Self-Sows and Naturalises Easily
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What are plugs?

Plugs are cuttings taken from the mother stock plants. They are rooted and shipped to greenhouses to transplant and grow on for their season’s supply. They can be easily pushed out of the trays and either transplanted into larger pots or outside in the ground. The principle advantage of the plug plants is that the roots can be kept relatively undisturbed when transplanting them into their final growing position.

Plant plugs typically look lie this
Plant plugs typically look like this

In comparison to growing from seed, this method is much easier with a greater end result, especially for plants which are more of a challenge to grow fromseed. Raising young seedlings inside is time consuming, as they need to be carefully watched at each stage – moisture levels must be just right, plenty of light but away from drafts and cold, etc. Get it wrong, and they end up with stunted growth which they may never fully recover from. So, buying young plants is an attractive alternative if you want to guarantee success or replace any early-season disasters. Plugs offer the gardener the ability to produce an attractive display with minimum effort, you can purchase the exact number of plants required, it is cheaper than buying flowering size specimens and uniformity of size/shape and colour of plants is useful for carpet bedding.

Every year, Garden Retreat runs a “plug program” in which you may order any quantity of various annuals in plug form. Sign up for our newsletter to be notified when the order list becomes available!

Author: Colleen Tanner

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Fall Garden Cleanup

Fall is the time to start preparing our gardens for the winter months ahead. Here are some things to do in the garden before the end of the season:



1) Stop fertilizing woody plants, as you want them to start hardening off and not expending energy into new fresh growth. Give your trees a good soak near the end of September with a soaker hose directly under the outermost branch tips, what we call the drip line, and leave it on for a day. They should be in a well hydrated state going into winter. Pruning is not recommended at this time of the year, except to clean up any dead or diseased wood.


Harvest  2) As for your edibles, now is a good time to pull out fading plants to get a head start on your clean up, such as peas and beans. Chop all the left over plants up and place them in your compost bin and turn/water your compost while you’re at it. Consider emptying out your compost and spreading it on the garden and lawn to make room for all the new material you will be putting in the bins in October after the rest of the perennials start to die back.



Frost Cloth 3) Make sure you have frost cloth ready for your tomatoes and other tender edibles, as  well. Now is also the time to selectively deadhead perennials if they do not have showy seed  heads or turn to mush in the winter but leave your roses alone to discourage fresh new growth.  It is also a good time to cut back woodland perennials such as bleeding hearts and ferns that  have gone dormant by this time of year. September is a good time for planting new perennials  or moving plants while the changes are still fresh in your mind and the sales are on in the stores.  Don’t be afraid to divide and replant older perennials now too! There is still plenty of time for  them to become established before winter. Make sure to keep on top of your weeding as it never seems to end; but seeing as the perennials are nice and big this time of year there shouldn’t be too much space for weeds to grow.

Garlic 4) Now is also the time to plant your fall bulbs and garlic. The sooner the bulbs are in the ground the sooner they will put down their roots. A few dozen grape hyacinth near your paths are a beautiful sight in spring as they poke their heads out, especially before the larger bulbs put in an appearance. Squirrels love tulip bulbs but dislike Blood Meal so if you sprinkle some on top of the ground it will prevent them from being dug up. Chicken wire works wonders as well. Be sure to dig up your summer bulbs like dahlias and gladiolas before a killing frost hits and you loss them! Plant your garlic now and sprinkle poppy seeds where you want a show next year but do not cover them with soil as they need light to germinate.

Although I do like to do a little fall clean up as previously mentioned, I am also a firm believer in leaving most things to die back naturally to provide protection for the root ball as well as for the critters, such as ladybugs, to overwinter in. We haven’t really been getting masses of snow, so the foliage will trap what we do get and provide insulation and moisture. As for your lawn an application of low nitrogen, high phosphorus/potassium fertilizer in the fall will encourage vigorous growth next spring. The last cut of the season can be shorter than during the summer and if you’re a real lawn lover you can aerate and top dress with light soil or compost now as well.The zoo runs some great gardening courses you can take to help with your landscaping endeavours. Starting in September is the Woody Plant ID course which helps you identify common plant material around Calgary and its effective use in the landscape.
Author: Colleen Tanner