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Bulb Planters Need to Be Modified

The catalogues for spring flowering bulbs arrived recently and they reminded me that some bulb planting tools are not wide enough for planting narcissus or daffodils and that none are sufficiently adequate for helping to convert tulip bulbs into perennials.

The most beautiful and eye catching tulips usually have a short life. Unlike short species such as Gregii or Fosteriana, that will rebloom for many years, most tulips last for about three years in the flowerbed before they begin to bloom scrawny or not at all. To increase their longevity, tulip experts suggest planting them 2 inches beyond the recommended depth. Therefore, if a tulip bulb is supposed to be planted 8 inches deep, converting that bulb from short- lived into a perennial requires a 10 inch cavity.This extra depth works best for the Darwin hybrids. Extending the life of other tall tulip varieties is, as yet, an unknown factor.

The challenge to the gardener is not only to find the right tool to create an 8 inch hole, but to find an even better one that will excavate to 10 inches. Sadly, such a tool does not exist. Regardless of price, all garden or bulb planting trowels are manufactured with a blade six inch long. Market forces being as powerful as they are, I suppose if it were ergonomically possible for the human hand to dig easily beyond 6 inches, manufacturers would have already created a longer planter. 

I have partially solved the challenge of the 8 and 10 inch hole by marking off an additional 2 inches on the handle of a six inch trowel. Based upon the color of the handle material, I will select red, black, or metallic silver marker for the task. This will allow me to create a longer measuring guide in order to dig to a depth of 8 inches.

Depending on the density of the soil, this extra depth will require more effort on my part and, of course, some hand fatigue will ensue, especially in situations when it is necessary to plant 50 or 100 bulbs. Furthermore, in order to create a hole 10 inches deep, I will first dig the 8 inch hole, remove the earth and set it aside and then dig anew to liberate another 2 inches of dirt. To reduce hand fatigue for both of these mini excavations, the gardener is advised to select a trowel with an ergonomically shaped, wider, or gel handle.

Another important consideration is the width of the trowel spade. Three sizes are on the market:- narrow, traditional, and wide. The narrow one is best suited for tiny bulbs such as chionodoxa or crocus. The traditional one is suitable for tulips and hyacinths, and the extra wide is best for daffodils and narcissus. Unlike the streamlined almost aerodynamic shape of a tulip bulb, these tend to be much wider because they are offered usually as two unseparated bulbs sold as one.

Of course, the gardener may purchase one trowel only and use it for all size bulbs. In that case, the widest trowel is the most versatile. Tools with spades that are too small will require twice as much digging. That's why I keep both the traditional and the wide spaded trowels in my garden tool bag.

It is easy to become confused by the many choices of planting trowels that are available. It is even easier to become overwhelmed when looking for them among the thousands of other garden tools offered online. Therefore, using as a convenient source, here is my selection of planting tools that I consider most useful. Click on the images for additional information.

Garden Works TT Assembly Tiger Trowel [Narrow Spade]

Fiskars 7023 Ergo Scratch Tool Garden Transplanter [narrow spade]


Radius garden 100 Ergo Trowel [traditional spade]
Oxo Good Grips Gel-e 16075 [traditional spade]
Ames True Temper High Carbon Steel 1990000 [traditional spade]

Fiskars 7073 Big Grip Trowel [wide spade]


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Reader Comments (4)

Wow, what a nice selection of trowels. We have actually used an auger at the end of a drill to plant in some of the more difficult soils and through groundcover.

I have never found a bulb planter that worked.


July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGatsbys Gardens

We have used the auger add on tool to the drill for some of the more formal, or border plantings with tulips. Otherwise- its just a spade shovel digging circles, holes or trenches that works best! We have planted thousands on our property in WI. Darwin Hybrids do come back over 3 years in zones 4-7. But I cant resist adding other tulips every year- but it is less than we used to! PS trowels & such are for annuals! Also- for planting just a few new perennials.. I often use a mini spade: 2 feet tall half the shovel size- I use it a lot!! (we bought for the kids but we love it!)

I came here to mention the garden auger attachment to a drill. We use it for planting bulbs and perennials. I see other people use this too.

I plant bulbs with a standard shovel. I pry open a slit, stuff a bulb at both ends of the blade and a handful of bone meal, then stomp the soil firmly back in place. I like the irregular spacing, more natural looking.

February 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSheila

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