By REBECCA SLOAN
As summertime's sizzle gives way to chilly autumn twilights, gardeners everywhere get the urge to plant springtime bulbs.
Even lukewarm amateurs succumb to this annual bulb-planting fever, spurred onward by an endless parade of mail-order catalogs splashed with colorful photos of flowers from Holland.
By the start of October, just about everybody who has a back yard seems to also have a bag or two of bulbs ready for planting.
But as these bulb-planters crouch amid a flurry of swirling autumn leaves, digging little holes and dreaming of bright beds of tulips and golden rows of daffodils, they often become a little cranky.
Perhaps the bad mood starts when blisters form on their palms from hacking away at rock-hard soil with a rusty digger, or maybe it begins after they realize the holes they dug for those two dozen Dutch iris bulbs weren't really 2 inches deep as required, but more like 4 inches deep.
Without the proper tools, bulb planting can turn into a bad time, but with just one or two affordable handy, dandy gadgets, it can be a breeze.
In case you didn't know, you aren't restricted to a shovel or a digger when it's time to break ground for your bulbs.
There are actual bulb planters on the market and they work like a charm.
There are two types of bulb planters.
Hand-held product: The first is small and hand-held and looks sort of like a bottomless, hollow metal cup with a handle attached to its top.
The bottom of the cup is made with serrated edges so that it can bite into the ground easily.
To use the device, plunge the metal cup into the ground to the desired depth.
When you pull it out, voil & aacute;, the cup holds a clod of dirt and all that's left behind is a perfect-sized hole for your bulb.
Some hand-held planters have a quick-release handle so you can hold the dirt hostage in the metal cup until you're ready to drop it back into the hole after the bulb has been snugly put in place.
Most hand-held bulb planters cut a core of dirt about 21/2 inches in diameter.
You can choose the depth of the hole by how deep you force the tool into the ground.
Often, measurements are engraved on the cups of bulb planters so you can easily tell how many inches deep your hole is.
That way, you won't end up burying an innocent daffodil bulb 9 inches into the cold, dark ground when it really wanted a hole about 6 inches deep.
Hand-held bulb planters are designed for people who like to sit or kneel on the ground and get close to the task at hand, but for those who prefer to stay standing up while they work, there are long-handled bulb planters.
Larger models: Long-handled bulb planters work just like the hand-held version, but this time you use the strength of your legs and feet, and not your hands, to dig holes.
Long-handled planters are about 3 feet long and at the bottom of the long handle is the same hollow metal cup that captures clods of dirt. This time, however, there is a foot tread at the top of the cup.
To use the device, you stand on the foot tread, force the cup into the ground much like you would a shovel, and out comes a clump of sod.
Long-handled bulb planters are ideal for mass plantings over wide areas, so if you have a grand plan to plant 500 tulip bulbs along the perimeter of your property, this is just the tool you need.
Seek quality: When buying a bulb planter, avoid planters that seem to be cheaply constructed. Fork out a little extra cash to get the best of the best and go for planters made of long-lasting steel.
Paying a little more is a worthwhile investment since a well-made planter will last a lifetime.
Bulb planters can cost anywhere from $2 to $25, depending on size and quality.
Trowel: If you have always planted bulbs with a hand-held digger or shovel, perhaps you would feel more comfortable using a bulb planting trowel.
Bulb planting trowels look like a common digger except they are designed with a narrower blade that pierces the ground with one strike when held like a dagger.
After piercing the soil, the trowel is held in place and pushed forward to create a tidy pocket for the bulb to sit in.
Dibber: Bulb planting trowels are also made with a padded rubber handle to reduce the risk of blisters and prevent slipping.
To plant petite bulbs, such as crocus or dime-sized grape hyacinths, consider using a dibber.
A dibber looks like an ice pick, and its primary function is to poke holes in the ground.
Dibbers come in different widths and the best models have wooden handles and steel prods.
Sit or kneel on the ground when using a dibber; otherwise, you'll soon have an aching back. And don't get carried away and poke holes that are too deep for your bulbs.
Auger: If you really want to make the bulb planting job a piece of cake, some garden centers sell augers that will attach to an electric drill.
This set-up allows a gardener to drill 21/2-inch holes in the ground with little or no elbow grease, and if you own a cordless drill, you need not worry about extension cords.
Tess Weaver of Adgate's Garden Center in Cortland said auger attachments are big sellers there.
They sell for about $27.
What's the plan?: After acquiring the right tools, the next best thing to do before you actually get down and dirty is to make a careful plan of your springtime garden.
Do you want to scatter the bulbs or plant them in neat rows?
Do you want thick clumps of blossoms or flowers that nod singularly in the spring breeze?
Will you mix colors, or keep each color separate?
When you have decided where and how you want to plant, it is easier to dig all of your holes first and then place the bulbs in the ground.
Don't dig a hole, plant a bulb, cover it up, water it and then go back to digging another hole and starting the process all over again. This method of work is much too tiresome.
To make bulb planting faster and more fun, elect a few friends or family members to help with the job.
If you have a designated digger, bulb-dropper and soil-patter, the work will be done lickety-split and nobody gets sore hands or a sore back.