According to Raleigh garden designer Tracy Traer, bulbs in piedmont North Carolina gardens often lack good drainage. Many diminish in number and stature because of rot, despite a gardener’s attention.
A former N.C. State horticulture professor, Traer installed and monitored campus bulb plantings during the 1980's that maintained a constant number of blooms over six years—without adding fertilizer. The difference is that these daffodils and other bulbs were planted on the ground and then covered with 6 inches of pine park much. Their roots can reach the fertile clay, but the bulbs themselves grew free from rot in the fine bark. Most ornamental bulbs originated in the deserts and mountains of central Asia—so a well-drained bark bed mimics the bulbs’ native soils.
Tracy refrained from fertilizing in order to isolate the impact of growing in bark. She says that with annual fertilization the bulbs would have multiplied many times over. Because of their dry-land heritage, bulbs are also extremely drought-hardy. This makes them ideal for a low-maintenance landscape.
Pine bark is a by-product of the lumber industry. At the lumber yards they use a powerful hose to blast the bark off before milling the tree. You can buy pine bark in bulk or have area nurseries and landscapers deliver it. You can also buy it in a bag at most garden centers. A 2-cubic foot bag will cover a 2'x2' bulb bed 6 inches deep. You can also buy bulbs in bulk from Terra Ceia Farm in northeastern NC. Brent and Becky's Bulbs in southeastern VA is also a great source.
What to do if you’re buying smaller quantities and want a long season of daffodil blooms? Plant a mix of February Gold, Peeping Tom and Ice Follies.