So, there you stand, faced with a giant carton full of hundreds and hundreds of bulbs. Sorry now that your eyes were bigger than your energy supply. Wondering how - and if you will ever get everything into the ground before the snow flies.
If this sounds like you, then you are probably one of those people who digs a hole for every single bulb. No wonder you're tired before you even start!
Do you know what the ultimate bulb-planting tool is? A spade. That's right - an ordinary garden spade. Spade up a nice patch of earth, the size that you want your bulb patch to be, at the proper depth for the largest bulbs. They you can simply sit down and arrange and rearrange the bulbs within the area to your heart's content. Replace the soil, along with a good organic compost or other organic matter, and voila! You're done.
When you are arranging, think "bouquet." Plant bunches of bulbs of the same color together for maximum impact, and let a few of a coordinating color from the next batch sort of mingle at the edges. Be sure to avoid soldierly looking straight lines, and instead plant in comma-shaped drifts of color. You'll love it come spring!
If you want a great mass of color, this is by far the fastest and easiest way. It's also a good way to do a layered planting where you arrange the largest bulbs, add some dirt and then plant smaller bulbs between them.
A spade can also be handy for naturalizing small bulbs like crocus, scilla and chionodoxa. Simply use it to lift up the sod, tuck the bulbs beneath it and replace the sod.. In spring they will come up right through the grass as if they had always been there. And by the time you need to mow, they will be ready to be mowed.
Make sure you plant a batch of these where you can see them through your window in spring. And while you're at it, make sure you plant a few bulbs right near the front and back doors. Instant cheer!
But what if you can't really spade up the area you're planting because it is already full of plants?
Then small but really efficient tools are called for.
If your soil is very soft and you don't have problems with rocks and stones being thrown up into the soil from frost heave then you can use a bulb planter. This is a cylindrical-shaped device with a cutting edge at the bottom and a handle at the top. Some come with long handles so that you can plant without stooping. You simply push it into the soil and it removes a plug approximately the right depth and width for good planting. The business end of the planter often has measuring marks on it so you know when you have gone deep enough for the specific bulbs you are planting; if yours doesn't, then measure it and gauge your holes accordingly.
The trouble with this device comes when you have stony soil, or when you are planting under trees or in areas where you don't have unobstructed dirt. Try pushing this tool down on a rock and you get nowhere.
In those situations - actually in most bulb planting situations, I have three other tools that I find much more efficient.
The first is a cordless drill with a bulb auger attached. The bulb auger looks like a giant corkscrew, and literally drills out a hole that you can drop your bulb into. Unless you are dealing with really large rocks, this is a fast and efficient way to handle a large bulb planting. I have a friend whose soil throws up rather large fieldstones regularly, and she was terrified to use her auger for fear the jolt she received if she hit one of those stones would injure either her or her auger for life. As it turns out, you do get a jolt - but such a minor one that you'll simply move over and keep going.
If you decide to go this route, use a heavy-duty cordless drill. My own 7 volt model wasn't up to the job, but my husband's 12 volt drill worked very nicely - although planting a half bushel of daffodils wore the batteries down quickly. Make sure yours are fully charged before you begin.
If you're not into power tools, and you're not into bending, a digging post is another alternative. The one I have used is actually a heavy metal pry bar. You jam it into the soil and then twist it around until the hole is of the correct depth and diameter. The problem with this is that in the act you are also compacting the soil around the bulb hole - but if you make the hole wide enough, and fill the hole with good dirt and composted matter your bulbs will grow and your back will thank you. I prefer to sit down on the ground amid all the little holes and use my digging knife (more about that later) to loosen the dirt before I drop in each bulb.
Some of us might find the kind of long distance gardening necessitated by the auger and the pry bar unappealing. There is something about kneeling in the soil, having hand to hand combat with the earth that is eminently satisfying. If the bulb planter doesn't suit you, then you're a good candidate for my very favorite garden tool - the Japanese digging knife, or Hori-hori as it is sometimes called.
Mine came in a leather sheath. It has a very thick steel blade, serrated on one side and pointed at the end - perfect for digging into the soil and sawing at wayward small roots. The blade is slightly concave in the center, to make scooping soil easy. And because of its thickness, this blade does a wondrous job of prying out even large rocks that may be in the way of your chosen planting spot. Because this is a narrow blade, it is easy to first use it as a soil probe to make sure that you are not slicing into one of last year's bulbs as you plant this year's acquisitions. And because the blade is exactly six inches long, you can also use it to gauge the proper depth of your bulb hole. Quite honestly, I've never found a better gardening tool! With this and a trowel for transplanting and a pair of pruning shears I can perform most of my daily gardening tasks with ease.
Choose your gardening tools wisely. If you find one you are really comfortable with, spray the handle with fluorescent paint so you don't lose it in the compost heap like I did. Poor tools can turn gardening into a dreaded chore, but good tools not only pay for themselves by lasting practically forever, but they make even the more difficult chores easier and more pleasant - and faster so you have more time to enjoy the garden.