Spring is in the air! Well, that’s the feeling you may have when you walk through area Garden Shops this month. With posters on display and pictures on the boxes it is all a colourful reminder that now is the time to start planting bulbs. The next few months are the ideal time to plant bulbs, although some like Darwin and Single Late Tulips can be planted as late as January and still flower beautifully in May.
An enormous selection of bulbs, corms and tubers are available -from miniature daffodils to the brilliant coloured tulips and from fragrant hyacinths to early fragile snowdrops. Combining some of these different varieties can make your garden a showpiece next spring. Have you ever thought of trying some more unusual bulbs?
Many of these bulbs are ideal for naturalizing in the garden where they can be left to grow and multiply for many years. Some are best grown in mixed borders where the unfolding leaves of perennials will hide the dying foliage of the bulbs. Or many can grow well along the edge of a woodland area where they will flower before the shade of the trees interfere with their life cycle.
Others, like scilla, crocus and glory of the snow are exceptional when planted in a lawn. You should be prepared to mow around the drifts of foliage until they die down naturally. The pale patches on the lawn will soon disappear with sunlight and a boost of lawn fertilizer. To create a natural look, take handfuls of bulbs and toss them over your shoulder. Plant the bulbs where they land.
Below is a descriptive list of some of these bulbs that you might like to try in your garden:
Eranthis hyemalis – Winter Aconite
One of the earliest blooming plants, appearing in late winter often showing its yellow flowers on top of the snow. Plant it in full sun or partial shade under trees and shrubs. Leave it undisturbed, and in a few years a well-established colony will develop. Plant 2″ deep and 3 – 4″ apart. Grows to 3″ tall and looks like a large, sweet-scented buttercup.
Galanthus nivalis – Snowdrop
Snowdrops are the harbingers of spring. Since they bloom before trees leaf out they can be planted under deciduous trees or in more open areas. They should be planted in large groups and left to increase freely for many years. If the clumps need to be divided it is best to divide them just after flowering.
Iris danfordiae – Danford Iris
This is one of the smallest members of the iris family growing only 4″ tall. The bright yellow flowers appear before the foliage. Plant the bulbs 4″ deep to discourage them from breaking up into many small non-flowering bulblets.
Iris reticulata – Netted Iris
There are two well-known varieties of I. reticulata – “Harmony” and “Violet Beauty.” Each flower grows to 6″ tall and is fragrant. Leaves are grass-like, forming tufts reaching 18″ tall. Plant 4″ deep in well-drained soil enriched with compost. Both Iris are well suited for growing in rock gardens. They are not long-lived and may need replanting every 3 – 4 years.
Crocus are easily recognized bulbs cherished for their early spring bloom. Because they are very economical and easy to grow they are popular for naturalizing. Hybrid crocus have larger flowers and bloom later than the bunch-flowering species types. Flower colours range from white, yellow, purple and even stripes. Heights vary from 3″ to 8″. Plant them 3 – 4″ deep in a sunny, well-drained spot where they can self sow. If crocus are naturalized in a lawn do not mow until the foliage begins to die down.
Chionodoxa luciliae – Glory of the Snow
So-called because they bloom when there is often snow still on the ground in early spring. Most varieties are blue with a white eye but there are some pink forms. Flowers grow to 3″ tall and are often used in rock gardens, under trees and shrubs and can be naturalized in the lawn where they will happily reseed to form large clumps in a few years. Looks good with forsythia and Star Magnolia.
Leucojum – Snowflake
Leucojum vernum is a member of the Amaryllis family and is closely related to L. aestivum (Summer or Giant Snowflake) which is later-blooming and larger in size. Both have nodding, fragrant white flowers with green-tipped petals and look a bit like a large Lily of the Valley. Spring Snowflake grows to 9″ tall and can be planted in clumps between shrubs and in rock gardens. Summer Snowflake grows to 18″ tall and can be planted in borders. Both can be left in place to naturalize for many years without dividing.
Puschkinia scilloides – Striped Squill
Striped Squill looks like a pale blue flower from the distance but is actually white with a blue stripe. It grows in thick clumps up to 6″ tall and self-sows quite easily. In early spring it combines well with Glory of the Snow.
Scilla siberica – Siberian Squill
S. siberica should be planted in masses to form a deep blue carpet. It looks great around forsythia and other spring flowering shrubs, at the edge of a woodland or in a rock garden. It grows to about 6″ tall and flowers in clusters of 3 – 5″ on wiry stems. This is another bulb that once planted should be left undisturbed.
Muscari armeniacum – Grape Hyacinth
Grape hyacinths are easy to grow and like Scilla, should be planted in large quantities for masses of colour, combining well with daffodils and tulips. The flowers are deep blue and look like tiny clusters of grapes on stems 6 – 8″ tall. They require little attention and freely self-seed.
Hyacinthoides hispanicus – Spanish Bluebells
Sometimes called Scilla campanulata. The flowers which may be white, pink or blue are a cross between squill and hyacinth and reach about 20″. Plant in moist rich soil in open borders or under light shade about 2″ deep. They may self sow and produce many offsets, quickly forming large colonies. Flowers appear in late spring combining well with tulips.
Allium Species – Ornamental Onions.
The onion family contains about 400 members, including leeks, garlic, chives and shallots. We are interested in the group of perennial herbs grown for their ornamental flowers. Nearly all produce bulbs often of considerable size. Ornamental onions are quite easy to grow in any ordinary soil and prefer full sun. Plants range in size from about 6″ to 5 feet tall. As well as producing seed some species produce bulbils in the flower cluster, which provide an easy method of propagation.
A few popular types of allium:
- A. caeruleum – Blue Onion – Appears in very late spring with clusters of blue flowers on stems 1 – 2 feet tall. Bulbils do appear in the flower cluster and can be propagated. Plant bulbs in mid-spring 4 – 6″ deep.
- A. giganteum – Giant Onion – This is one of the tallest, though not the largest flowering allium, with stems reaching 3 – 5 feet tall. Flowers are purple and in round clusters 4 – 6″ across. The leaves often die down by early summer, so plant this bulb behind other plants that will hide it as this happens. Bulbs can be planted in fall or spring 6″ deep.
- A. karataviense – Turkestan Allium – This onion is very low-growing , reaching only 6 – 10″ tall. The leaves are blue-green, 5″ wide and 10″ long. The flower heads are large for the height of the plant, being 3 – 4″ across and are silvery pink with a purple vein. Plant bulbs in fall or spring 4″ deep.
- A. moly – Lily Leek – This species works well in rock gardens. It grows 12″ tall and has loose clusters of yellow star-shaped flowers appearing in mid-May. The flat leaves are up to 2″ wide and resemble iris foliage. The flower clusters of many of the larger flowered alliums can be cut, dried and used in arrangements.
Anemone blanda bulbs- Grecian Windflower
These low growing plants are usually covered in mid-spring with masses of blue, pink or white daisy-like flowers. Each bloom, is 1 – 2″ across, almost hiding the foliage on this 6″ tall plant. Best planted in rock gardens, under trees or at the edge of woodland borders. Prefers part shade but will grow in full sun. The foliage dies down quickly after the flowers fade. If the tubers appear shriveled, you can soak them in warm water overnight before planting. Plant in early fall 2″ deep.
Camassia are among the last of the spring bulbs to flower. Two of the species, C. cusickii and C. leichtlinii can reach heights of 3 – 4 feet with pale blue flowers along the top 1/3 of the stem. They work well in herbaceous borders with earlier flowering perennials, which will cover the dying foliage after the bulbs bloom.
Tulips, daffodils, crocus and hyacinths are the bread and butter of the spring bulb display but, as you can see from this short list, there are many other types of bulbs to plant for a glorious show of colour in spring.