Planting Tips for Native Bulbs

Great CamasGet ready for Benton Soil and Water Conservation Districts 1st Annual Native Bulb Sale to be held at Corvallis Fall Festival on September 24 and 25! We will be sharing space with City of Corvallis Civic Beautification and Urban Forestry (CBUF) Committee who will have a variety of non-native, ornamental bulbs available. We’ll have 12 eye-catching varieties of Willamette Valley native bulbs to select from. Wow, so many choices! Click here to view the full list and find out what makes each one special.

Once you get home with a bagful of hard-to-find native bulbs, what should you do? This post will help you in your site selection, soil preparation, and bulb placement.

Tiger Lily buds

Timing

The best time to plant bulbs is in the fall after the first rains when soils are cool and not so hard. This generally occurs in late October in our area. After you purchase your bulbs at our sale, put them in a plastic bag with ventilation holes so they stay moist yet don’t sweat and mold. Keep the bag in your refrigerator or a cool, dry place until the time is right to plant. Tiger lily and fawn lily are especially susceptible to molding so it is important for them to be kept in a refrigerator until planting time. Keep in mind that if kept in the refrigerator, store away from other fruits as the ethylene off-gassing can damage the undeveloped flower within the bulb.

fawn lily

Location

To plant your native bulbs it’s most important to choose the right spot for each genus. The bulbs in our sale have varying soil, sun exposure, and moisture requirements. Check our Native Plant Sale Catalog or Native Plant Database pages for details on the specific plant’s preferences before planting. For example, most bulbs like well-drained soils but great and common camas need winter and spring moisture.

Common camas at Marys River Natural Area © Oregon NRCS
Common camas at Marys River Natural Area © Oregon NRCS

Site Preparation

Once you have established the best location to plant, loosen the soil to a depth of 5” – 8”. Smaller native bulbs are not treated the same as the much larger daffodil and tulip bulbs typically sold this time of year. A shallow planting hole is best for natives. Also, it is not recommended to amend the soil with compost or fertilizers. Native bulbs are suited to our soils so the best preparation you can do for your bulbs is to plant in the right location, as mentioned above. If you have problems with moles, then a bulb like checker lily might benefit from enclosing in an underground wire mesh.

frit-aff © Kathleen Sayce
Checker lily © K. Sayce

Placement

Native bulbs have a bigger visual impact – and greater benefits for pollinators – when planted in groupings of three to five or more. Place the bulbs in the planting hole at a depth of two to three times the bulb size with the roots pointing down. If it’s hard to tell which end grows roots then it’s safe to lay the bulb on its side. Cover the bulbs with soil and tamp lightly.
You can pretty much leave your bulbs alone for the rest of their life. They don’t want irrigation or fertilizing, but a top coating of compost once in a while will be appreciated. The first year your bulbs may not flower but by the second year you will have native flowering bulbs for wildlife and you to enjoy. Thank you in advance for supporting the Benton Soil and Water Conservation District’s Fall 2016 Native Bulb Sale!

References

Native Plant Care” Pacific Horticulture Magazine, October 2005
Great Plant Picks, 2016
How to Plant Flower Bulbs” American Meadows Society, 2016
NW Native Plant Journal, Volume 9, Issue 10-2012, October 2012
Kruckeberg, Arthur R. “Gardening with Native Plants”. University of Washington Press, 1996.