For the beginner gardener, spring-blooming bulbs are a satisfying, easy start. For the seasoned gardener with a failing memory (me), spring-blooming bulbs are a delight because every forgotten fall-planted bulb is a spring-time surprise. For any gardener, the sweetness of early life in the waning, winter garden and the welcomed injection of color within a previously bleak landscape – is the best kind of jumpstart to the approaching spring season.
The first step is actually just remembering to plant bulbs at a time when gardening tends to be off of the radar – mid- to late-autumn. (I have planted bulbs as late as Thanksgiving.) Bulbs will be available at local garden centers throughout this time period and also through catalogs. You can actually start ordering them as early as June (many places will offer early- bird discounts) and the bulbs will be shipped in the fall.
I asked Becky Heath, of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs out of Gloucester, Virginia, for her top two growing tips for bulbs. Her first recommendation focuses on siting, forever a very important element to consider when planting your bulbs to ensure success. “Humans tend to place plants where they want to see them. We suggest that sun-loving bulbs be planted in full sun and shade lovers be planted in the shade…they will be happier, perform better and therefore make the gardener happy, too!”
Also, when planting, think of planting in masses or groups of at least five. They will offer more, aesthetically, to the landscape in drifts instead of singlets. And ditch the bulb planter. I have had better luck planting large amounts of bulbs with a spade by just hitting it into the dirt, moving it back and forth and dropping the bulbs in. Becky has a simple recommendation for creating a bulb raised bed. “Most of our soils are somewhat depleted of nutrients. We suggest putting down about 6” of compost on top of the ground; place the bulbs on top of the compost and cover them with either 6” more compost, top soil or light mulch. The bulbs will get the nutrients they need from the compost and will automatically have terrific drainage from the ‘raised bed’ that was just created by planting in this way.”
The trickier element of bulb planting involves timing, if you want constant color and blooms throughout the season. Here is a quick chart to get you started.
Early spring – Snow drops, crocuses, early daffodils. To try: Narcissus “Golden Echo” from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs offers a long-lasting bloom and is pest proof. Crocus “Blue Pearl” is ideal for an early spring show that will also naturalize.
Mid-spring – Later-blooming daffodils, tulips, fritillaries, glory-of-the-snow. To try: Narcissus “Thalia,” an old fashioned daffodil with a scent and pure white flower. Tulip “Angelique” – Double-ruffled flower heads come in shades of pale pink and cream – perfect for the cutting garden. Glory-of-the-snow, Chionodaxa forbesii, is the most asked after spring bulb in our gardens. The small, star-shaped blue and purple flowers dot the landscape and create a fairy-world like groundcover. This particular heirloom variety dates back to 1880.
Late spring/early summer – Alliums-alliums-alliums! Globe-shaped flowers burst into the season atop tall stems that complement everything in the cottage garden. To try: Allium aflatunense ‘Purple Sensation’ – one of the easiest allium varieties to cultivate. Allium schubertii offers fireworks in flower form. And, Allium caeruleum is a true blue allium. (An extra perk of alliums is that they are not particularly tempting to the wildlife.)
Dream big this autumn. Then, celebrate each new green shoot that pushes through the soil come February, March, April and May – as they mark the unfolding of every delicate, ephemeral spring moment and the gleeful march toward longer, warmer days.