Dallas’ dirtiest job lays ground for springtime beauty

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 The Sounds of Spring, which debuts Feb. 29 and runs through April 12.

More than 500,000 spring-blooming bulbs are being planted.
Photo courtesy of the Dallas Arboretum

Planting bulbs is an integral part of the gardening cycle, and it takes 65 Arboretum staff members to plant and produce the beautiful floral displays each spring. The bulbs are ordered from Abbott Ipco, and it takes roughly 11,560-man hours to plant them. 

The horticulture team begins by amending the soil and removing existing mums and other 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, 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: “Remember that you don’t have to fertilize or water as much in the winter, but 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. 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.”

The 12 Days of Christmas and the new Arboretum Christmas Village are on display through Dec. 31.