Dallas’ dirtiest job benefits future flowers

By Juliette Coulter

The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden’s horticultural staff, with the help of up to 30 additional seasonal gardeners, are laying out and planting more than 500,000 spring-blooming bulbs throughout the 66-acre garden. As one of the city’s dirtiest jobs, these gardeners know that their hard work will result in the most spectacular floral festival of the year, Dallas Blooms, themed “America the Beautiful,” which debuts February 20 and runs through April 11.

It takes 65 Arboretum staff members 11,560 hours to plant the Dallas Blooms bulbs.
Photos courtesy of the Dallas Arboretum

During the winter, planting bulbs is an integral part of the gardening cycle that results in the beautiful spring floral displays. It takes 65 Arboretum staff members 11,560 hours to plant the bulbs from Abbott Ipco. The horticulture team begins by amending the soil and removing existing fall plants, adding compost, broadcasting bone meal bulb fertilizer with a hand spreader, and adding blood meal to keep away squirrels and birds. 

“Bulbs need to be chilled in a paper bag stored in a refrigerator for four to six weeks before planting, and soil temperatures need to be 50 degrees or lower when planting the bulbs to ensure the tulips don’t bloom too early,” said Dave Forehand, Dallas Arboretum’s vice president of gardens. 

The Dallas Arboretum horticultural staff plants the bulbs in staggered rows, spaced three to six inches apart, depending on the type of bulb. 

Other spring-blooming annuals and perennials, such as pansies, are planted four inches down from the bulbs so the beds appear fuller and burst with splashes of different colors. 

The final step in the process is upkeep. 

Forehand added, “The types of spring-blooming bulbs being planted include a wide variety of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, in addition to 100,000 pansies, violas and thousands of other spring-blooming annuals and perennials. Remember that you don’t have to fertilize or water as much in the winter, but you will need to more in spring because as the sun begins to warm and dry, the bulbs will grow more quickly. Watering before a freeze insulates the plant and saves it from freezing, so always water, if a freeze is predicted. Pansies, kale and poppies survive a freeze, so you don’t have to cover them.”

From now through January 15, visitors have the opportunity to witness bulb planting throughout the gardens, which is later than normal due to the unseasonably warmer winter temperatures. 

The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens is located on the southeastern shore of White Rock Lake at 8525 Garland Road, Dallas, Texas 75218. The Arboretum is open daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Advanced reserved tickets are required and can be purchased online at dallasarboretum.org or by calling 214-515-6615 during the week. Masks are also required.