There are few things that you can plant in your garden that give as much as spring-blooming bulbs. They truly are the earliest show offs of the year and come in such a wide variety of types and colors; most gardeners can’t resist putting some in. Of course, some of us – who have invited and welcomed in the neighborhood deer – will not have tulips but rather a very nice display of leaves and blossomless stems. “They are bold, those deer!” – says the gardener who recently had a deer ON HER FRONT PORCH, snacking on a Tropicana potted rose. But this is about bulbs; not deer.
Nurseries and garden centers generally have a good selection of bulbs, but you’ve got to hit the stores at the right time or the supplies will have dwindled rapidly. You’ve got to get there early, well before it’s time to plant. In this case, the early bird gets the fritillaries. Then you’ll have to hold over those bulbs until the right time to plant. They need to be stored in a cool, dry place. If you’re going to have them for a month before planting, the refrigerator would be a good place to ensure that they’ve gotten their “chill on.”
Paul James, of DIY’s Gardening By The Yard, tells us, “I like more choices and I don’t like risking storing the bulbs. I prefer to order mine. There are literally dozens of catalogs and online sources for doing just that. Many offer varieties that you won’t find in stores and they’ll ship the bulbs to you when it’s time to plant them in your area.”
If you’re doing mail order, plant your bulbs immediately, if possible. If you can’t plant right away, it’s best to open the boxes and bags and allow air to circulate around the bulbs.
Most bulbs are sun-lovers, although Spanish bluebells prefer the shade. Early bloomers, such as crocus, do best beneath leaf bearing trees since they bloom long before the trees fill in with leaves. Generally, plant your bulb in a location that gets at least six hours of sunlight a day.
When you plant your bulbs, plant the taller ones – like gladiolus – in the back and the ones with the smaller, low growing blossoms in the front. If you’re adding bulbs to an already existing bed, plant in groups of threes and fives to produce the appearance of lushness as if those plants have always grown there.
And WHEN really is the question, isn’t it? It’s really better to get your crocus and Madonna lilies in the ground around mid-September along with daffodils and the larger flowering hyacinths. This month is great for crocus, tulips, grape hyacinth, Fritillaria, alliums, snowdrops, scillia and squill. Don’t forget that squill has the added benefit of being repellant to burrowing critters. Also, irises should go in the ground now.
If you’re working a whole new bed, spade up the area, work in a 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per 10 square feet to give your bulbs the best possible start. This is especially important if you are planning on keeping the bulbs in situ for more than one year.
After the ground freezes, or after consistent frosts, set in (we’re not living in Vermont, after all!) cover your bulb planted areas with a 3-inch mulch. You might want to rake it back in early April or late March, if the weather is mild, unless the new shoots can penetrate it easily.
When your bulb blooming time has come and gone, we’re often tempted to cut back that yellow, dying and unsightly foliage. Don’t. You can remove the spent blooms, because otherwise the bulb will use up its energy in seed production. Leave that foliage. After the blooms, the bulb itself needs that foliage to store up food before its next dormancy. The leaves will provide nourishment to sustain the bulb through dormancy and growth of the bulb itself. Camouflage that fading foliage with bright annuals, maybe pansies, zinnia and some spreading sweet Allysum.
Favorites in the bulb world are daffodils, voted #1 in Sunset magazines gardening survey year after year, and followed by tulips of all kinds. Some of the most beautiful tulips are the botanical Parrot tulips. They’re just gorgeous! It’s tough to beat the hyacinth’s sweet fragrance in the spring. These come in many shades of purple, blue, pink, red and white. They are also easy to force in a dish of gravel, as are narcissus. One of the first flowers to usher in spring is the crocus. Their lovely, cup-shape blooms come in colorful shades of yellow, orange, purple, blue, and white. Their small size makes them easy to tuck pathways, or at the front of the border. The bold lollipop types of Allium are what most gardeners are familiar with. The Allium family is huge and offers gardeners a great mix of plant sizes, shapes, and colors. They are a deterrent to a number of pests and burrowing critters. Squill is always worth a second look, plus it offers the benefit of being an underground varmint repellant. Siberian squill features easy-growing ways and incredible blue color. It's spring's finest blue hue -- and an incredibly easy bulb to boot. It grows just about anywhere. Crown Imperial - with a name like this, you know it has to be an eye-catcher! Crown imperials offer a beautiful cluster of downward-facing flowers in warm, Hawaiian shades. They're topped by a tuft of leaves. Though beautiful and dramatic, they're also a bit stinky – helpful in keeping those who would munch on your garden away. Graceful little bulbs, anemones are the very breath of spring, popping up cheerfully from ferny foliage. They bloom in shades of pink, white, and blue -- and work well in virtually every garden. They’re under used and under rated and definitely worth considering. The fragrant freesia is welcome in any garden, but they are rather finicky albeit fabulous and worth the effort. They grow well in containers.
Bulbs offer variety, loads of color and ease of growing that are unsurpassed.