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Entries in bulb planters (2)


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]



Unorthodox Opinions About Bulb Planting or a New Use for Ski Underwear.

Spring flowering bulbs are planted in autumn when being outdoors, in some parts of the Northern hemisphere, is not always pleasant. Gardeners that are prone to quickly getting chilled, and who feel dampness in their bones more readily than others, should consider wearing a layer of ski underwear [top and bottom] underneath their gardening clothes. It does make a difference - a very big difference. The old fashioned variety that has a bit of wool blended into its fibers is the best- if it is still available. The underwear traps natural body heat to keep the gardener warm.

The most important tool for planting bulbs is a flat kneeling pad made of foam. Do not purchase one that is a cheap promotional quality; a rigid, thick product is best. Its primary purpose is to cushion the knee caps during the planting process but it has another important benefit as well. When two such pads are placed side by side, the gardener can slide over from one work station to the next and from one knee pad to the other, without lifting the body. This helps to avoid the repetitive movement of standing up and kneeling down, an aerobic exercise that can tire out gardeners who are not in good shape. Progressing sideways  from one pad to another is similar to playing leap-frog:  For example, - after the gardener slides from left to right, i.e. from pad No 1 to pad No 2, pad No 1 is then lifted and placed to the right of pad No 2, thereby becoming pad No. 3.

Planting bulbs efficiently requires a set of trowels: - one with an oversized blade and the other, a narrower version of the first. In order to plant tulip or daffodil bulbs, a hole 8 to 10 inches deep must be dug. The larger trowel can only create a hole 6 inches deep on the first try. A second plunge with such a large trowel is unnecessary work. It is easier to switch over to a smaller trowel, whose narrow point can efficiently deepen the first hole by 2 or 4 inches.

Before planting, prepare the trowels so that they can also serve as measuring guides to determine the depth of the holes. Items needed for this task are a ruler, a red permanent marker and pre cut strips of metallic duct tap, cut ¼ inch wide. On the concave side of the blade of the larger trowel and beginning at its tapered point, measure off spots for 2, 3, 4, and 6 inch depths and identify them with the red marker. Each variety of spring flowering bulb needs to be planted at its specifically recommended depth and these markings make it easier to gauge those measurements while digging.

Then, continuing along the handle, mark off the 8 and 10 inch spots. Highlight these last two measurements by wrapping the duct tape strips around the handle at these two spots to create metallic bands. Repeat the handle markings on the narrow trowel as well; its blade portion may already be factory engraved with measurements, depending on the brand purchased.

The 8 inch markings help to gauge the depth of the planting hole for tulips, daffodils and narcissus. The 10 inch spot is used to convert Darwin tulips into perennial bulbs. By planting at 10 instead of the recommended 8 inch depth, the Darwin tulip will work harder to generate growth and that work encourages it to behave like a perennial. However, Species tulips, such as Greigeii, Kaufmanniana and Fosteriana, will perform as perennials when planted at their recommended depths.

Lastly, avoid purchasing tools that are sold as bulb planters, no matter how attractive or clever they appear. They are not user-friendly nor are they efficient. Many such tools are made with a tubular blade that creates a circular hole. However, compacted earth will get stuck inside the tube and removing it is time consuming and arduous work. In addition, avoid drilling holes with an auger bit. Some gardeners report disappointing results with this method.