Quick ‘N Dirty Bulb Primer

“Spring, when young men’s thoughts turn to flights of fancy.”  Fall, when gardeners’ thoughts turn to spring!

Fall garden porn?

Gardeners’ minds become overstimulated at this time of year, with lively, colourful fantasies of . . . yes, the perfect spring garden.  That is because this is the time when bulbs are in stores and can be planted, and we must plan for the exciting moment when blossoms burst forth and wake the landscape with spring colour.  Spring is a rush for gardeners, (male or female!), but it cannot happen without some planning, research and attention over the next month or so.

Bulbs dramatically extend the number of months you can enjoy your garden, giving colour and anticipation to the end of winter.  In addition, some bulbs, such as Fritillaria Meleagris and Allium Giganteum  simply have a beauty or special effect that no other plant can offer.

First, I’ll give you an overview of great bulbs suitable for planting now, and then I will highlight the main things you need to know about planting and successfully enjoying them.  Note that some climates allow other bulbs (such as gladiolas, for example), and that others (such as lilies) are planted in spring, but this post will not discuss those bulbs.

Recommended Bulbs for Fall Planting (roughly in bloom sequence):

Galanthus, Snowdrops Without fail, these are the earliest-blooming bulbs and will often emerge from the snow in full bloom as it melts!

Snowdrops emerging as snow melts

 They are delicate-looking, yet so tough and resilient that fresh snow and freezing temperatures may plague them for weeks and they will simply continue to bloom once they start.  Plant these in irregular, natural-looking groupings of 7 or more, where you can enjoy them while you are coming and going in winter, or can view them from indoors, because you will not want to be outside when they are!

If planted where they are sheltered from the North and get the spring sun, you might get to see their small, white, nodding blossoms as early as February (or as late as April), even north of Toronto.

Scilla Sibericus, Siberian Squill  This another of the earliest-blooming bulbs you will get.  Snowdrops will beat them to first bloom every time, but little else will.  They are low in stature and have a growth habit that is suited to underplanting trees, shrubs or taller bulbs, with prolific, starry blue flowers that look good with almost anything else.

Crocus  This is a spring classic, with a slightly more noticeable flower than those listed above, and comes in a variety of colours from white to pink and purple.  They bloom in solid colours or an irregular stripey pattern.  They mix nicely with taller bulbs, especially Daffodils, as their bloom season overlaps with many such early bulbs.  Plant them in groups or at least three, as you are still going to be viewing them from indoors unless you are way more cold-hardy than I am!

Crocuses starting early in March, 2012

A beautiful thing you can do with crocus is to plant groupings or “drifts” of them under your lawn.  They will bloom before the lawn really grows enough to cut, for a beautiful, naturalized effect in your lawn.

Narcissi/Daffodils     Another well-known spring classic, there are many, many variations of these, from large like “King Albert”, to very small and woodsy-looking varieties.  Colours range from the familiar bright yellow to white, orangey and yellow with orange centres.   Either mix them with Tulips and other bulbs, or use them in a woodland garden setting (where, in my personal opinion, they are at their most beautiful).  They can also be used under lawns in less-manicured areas.

Daffodils pair charmingly with muscari or Fritillaria Meleagris, below.

In the flower bed, it’s a good idea to plant them close to other plants (hosta, for example) that will subsequently grow up over their dying foliage once they are finished.

Hyacinth  Often sold as a potted plant in late winter, these can be planted in the garden in fall.  They grow from a very large bulb and are one of the first things to push up out of the soil when it begins to thaw.

Pink Hyacinths Underplanted with Creeping Jenny, April, 2012

 They cannot withstand the weather that Snowdrops will put up with but by April or May, will flower dramatically white, pink, blue or purple.  Definitely recommended for your spring planters!

Muscari, Grape Hyacinth  These tiny bulbs will, when planted in sparse groups or as an edging for the spring garden, fill in quickly over the years to form a dense mat of blue, purple or white.  They reproduce prolifically and bloom relatively early.  They combine well with taller bulbs also, in part due to their shallow planting depth–they don’t compete with their more deeply-planted neighbors.

Naturalized Muscari
Photo from: http://longislanddailyphoto.blogspot.ca/

If you are looking for bulbs that will thrive no matter your neglectful ways, this is the flower for you!  I love any plant that thrives under a Black Walnut tree, as regular readers of this blog know only too well.

Tulipa, Tulip Varieties  Tulips cover a long bloom season, depending on variety.  Check the packages for bloom time.  I find there is so much range that you can begin spring with one colour scheme and end it with a completely different combination of tulip colours.  There are many types: the standards we know and love including easy-care “Queen Elizabeth” exotic, almost black “Queen of the Night” and cold-hardy, faithful “Apricot Beauty”.  There are double and parrot tulips and one of my favourites, late-blooming, ruffly “Angelique”.

Few gardens seem complete without tulips,

Angelique with Queen of the Night

and for best results plant at least two varieties that complement each other in the same garden and take measures to prevent squirrels, who adore them, from digging them up.  Questions about those matters? Please ask in the comments section, below.

Fritillaria  The varieties of Fritillaria are very different in size and looks, and you are welcome to enjoy any and all of them according to your personal taste.  I have seen Fritillaria Imperialis, which is large and dramatic, used as a centrepiece of a late spring garden in Toronto.  It is really a one-plant show, demanding all of the attention, and not the sort of thing with which to create a multi-layered harmonious flower border.

Fritillaria Meleagris, Checkered Lily is my favourite and a garden staple that I use a lot.  It blooms before many foliage plants (Solomon’s Seal and Hostas) are really up, and is sweetly exotic in character.  It can also be naturalized in longer, unmanicured grass areas or woodland gardens and is pretty in drifts with Narcissus varieties.

Fritillaria Meleagris, Checkered Lily, with other emerging spring plants

One of its special qualities is that it wards of evil squirrels, so plant it as protection with your Tulips if you like.  My cats use it to effect a cleanse. (Really, it does not agree with cats so I am assuming toxic qualities that you probably won’t want small children to consume, either.)

Allium Giganteum could be another word for “spectacular”.  It is the Giant Flowering Onion.  Its globe-like flower head

Allium, Flowering Onion

stands far above its large, strappy leaves in late spring.  There are variations of this plant in different sizes and differing versions of purple.  One of the most dramatic, and most presently “in”, is Allium Christophii, Star of Persia.  This cultivar is not as tall as Allium Giganteum, but its flower head is larger  It also blooms later, in early summer, but ornamental Allium cultivars must be planted in fall as a (very large!) bulb.

This plant pairs beautifully with Nepeta, Catmint, when the Catmint begins blooming.  It also looks stunning blooming above a boxwood hedge.

Colchicum and Autumn Crocus  I utterly adore these discreet little beauties!  Why?  Because they extend the bloom season of the garden dramatically.  They wait patiently until everything else as had its moment in the spotlight, sending up inconspicuous green leaves to photosynthesize during the regular growing season.  Then, when the garden is done, the leaves are coming off deciduous shrubs and trees and things are yellow, brown and damp, they appear.

Colchicum and Autumn Crocus are not one and the same as much as they are constantly confused.  However I have grouped them together due to their similarities in use and appearance.  Colchicum is a larger and more expensive bulb to plant, however, but both resemble large crocuses.

Well, that is the main fall bulb list for Zones 5 and 6.  Below, I explain what to do with them.

Quick ‘n dirty planting tips:

*     Location, location, location:  Bulbs thrive under deciduous trees and shrubs, where they will bloom in the spring sun before the leaves come onto the trees.

*     Design-wise, early bulbs are especially stunning if paired with early spring-blooming shrubs and trees such as forsythia, flowering crabapple trees and certain azaleas and rhododendrons.  Also recommended:  Goldflame Spirea.

Forsythia, Goldflame Spirea and early bulbs

*     Plant your bulbs at the depth recommended on the package, with larger bulbs generally planted deeper than smaller bulbs.

*     Put some cold-hardy bulbs in your planters for spring colour.  Go a zone colder in choosing bulbs for planters, as they will be more vulnerable.

*     Sprinkle a bit of bone meal in the hole and blend with soil before putting in your bulbs.

*     Scratch bone meal into the soil wherever existing bulbs may already be planted to give them a boost for next spring.

*     Toss blood meal around areas planted with bulbs to prevent squirrels from re-designing your colour scheme or otherwise devouring your efforts.  Reapply after rain.

*     Mixing Naricissus and Fritillaria in with bulbs such as tulips, that squirrels like, will deter these pests, since squirrels have an aversion to those two bulb types.  Fritillaria actually seems to be toxic and I have noticed that it also makes cats sick.

*     Place bulbs pointy side up in the prepared holes.  You may see dried out root-like material on the bottom.

*     Underplant bulbs with Myosotis Sylvatica, Forget-Me-Nots for a more polished and exuberant look to the spring bulb display.

*     Leave stalks to brown once blooming is finished, as the plant needs to make food for the bulb as long as possible so that you get a nice show again the following year.  Once the foliage is brown, you can cut it off  if you like.

Do you have questions about planting fall bulbs?  Feel free to ask in the comments below or to add your input and suggestions.

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About patinaandcompany

I am a compulsive beautifier of all things habitable. Give me your ugly, non-functional and visually repellent, and I am in my element. Also, an avid and experienced gardener determined to share my horticultural experiences with others. See more at "About"
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5 Responses to Quick ‘N Dirty Bulb Primer

  1. gracefully50 says:

    Thanks for this info! I hope to plant some of these soon!

  2. Pingback: Bittersweet October | patinaandcompany

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