Sow There!: Bag them bulbs at first sight, 12/01/17

Growing hyacinths indoors is a great way to justify buying bulbs and forgetting to plant them in the ground.
Growing hyacinths indoors is a great way to justify buying bulbs and forgetting to plant them in the ground.Photo by Heather Hacking
 If you search under the keywords “garden to-do list,” and add the word “December,” you’ll find a million pictures on Pinterest and several lists of helpful tips for what to do just about now.

These lists are helpful. You’ll find ideas for things you can do to avoid cleaning the interior of your home.

I believe the exact right time to do something is when you’re thinking about it. Better do it quick, before you get sidetracked.

Christina, if you’re reading this now, plant some bulbs today.

When it comes to buying bulbs, the exact right time to buy is when your shopping cart is pointed directly toward the rack of bulbs.

In August I ran into my amazing friend Katie V. at Costco. We each recognized the oversized bags of colorful bulbs long before we noticed we were standing side-by-side.

Katie had her hands on an oversized bag of frou-frou tulips with multi-colored, ballerina skirt petals. To plant all the bulbs in that bag, she would have needed to buy a house with a bigger yard.

I was daydreaming about fragrant freesias in red and yellow. Katie and I soon came up with a plan to each buy one bag, then meet up later for a bulb swap.

More than a month passed before I stopped by her house, while she was gone, snatched half my bag from the front porch and left half of my bag in exchange.

This week I arrived at Katie’s house for a party. Of course, I was a day early, which means I was pleased to see what her house looks like before she cleans for a party. I couldn’t help but notice she had only planted a few of her bulbs.

Bags of unplanted bulbs are also sitting near my own front door.


I’ve heard that the best time to plant bulbs is around Thanksgiving. The weather isn’t terrible, and you’re not pressed with the winter holiday hustle to buy, wrap and deliver gifts. However, I’ve planted bulbs as late as December and they have bloomed just fine.

My final projects for my college semester are due the first few weeks of December, so I’ll be lucky to plop my bulbs into soil before the New Year.


My cat disappeared in July and the gophers took about 20 minutes before reclaiming the territory that was once my yard. Tulips are among the favorite snacks of gophers. For that reason, the frilly tulips in my possession will need to be planted in pots.

Marin Master Gardeners recommends prechilling bulbs for 4-6 weeks in the refrigerator. Be careful to keep them segregated from fruit, which puts out ethylene gas, which will spoil your bulbs. If you’re buying now, shop for bulbs that have already been prechilled.

As for my stash, I’m hoping it’s been cold enough near my front door for my bulbs to know it’s time to grow. My experience is that tulips do not bloom the second year in this climate. I’ve tried digging them up, storing them for a year, chilling tulip bulbs in the refrigerator, then planting again. Nowadays I buy a new bag of bulbs.

Daffodils, on the other hand, have returned again and again, and even survived neglect during the drought years.

As for the freesias, I’ve planted these in just about every season and had excellent luck. They can also be forced indoors at odd times of the year. The University of California Cooperative Extension recommends planting freesia September through November.

If you haven’t grown freesias, give yourself a little treat. The flowers are long-lasting in pots and make the walk to your doorway an olfactory treat. I have found them blooming in pots when I had long forgotten placing the freesia bulbs.

Hyacinths are also among my favorites for fragrance. I hope some that I planted last year will bloom again this spring.

My fingernails have been dirty for decades and I’ve planted many other bulbs including those giant purple globes, crocus, muscari, anemone, ranunculus … They’re all lovely. I just did not bump into bags of those bulbs this year.

Follow garden enthusiast Heather Hacking on Twitter. For email:, and snail mail, P.O. Box 5166, Chico CA 95927.

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