Come spring, you'll be so delighted you did it.
When we've barely had a summer and don't want to even think about winter, it might take a little planning and imagination to get excited about planting something that won't bloom until next spring. But one of the highlights of autumn for many gardeners is the annual ritual of planting spring-flowering bulbs. Each year I swear that I'm not going to plant any more bulbs in our garden. Each year catalogues and nurseries roll out some new varieties, and invariably I succumb to the temptation to add a few (dozens) more bulbs to our ever-expanding plantings. Each spring, I'm so glad I did.
Planting and caring for your spring bulbs
When you're poring over catalogues, make a list of the bulbs you want, their expected heights, and approximate time of bloom. If you want to have certain colours and species blooming together, you'll need to make sure that they're early, mid, or late-season varieties. Of course, spring in Atlantic Canada can be late and moody, and I regularly have late-blooming varieties of narcissus and tulips still flowering in early July.
For the best visual bang for your buck, plant groupings of the same colour in clusters of seven or nine or more; if you mix too many colours into a single planting, you'll get a muddy appearance from sidewalk or road.
For a naturalized look in lawn or under trees, toss handfuls of bulbs onto the ground, and then plant them wherever they've landed. Next spring, you'll have random spots of colour, but with bulbs that multiply well, it should only take a couple of years to have the "host of golden daffodils" so beloved by Wordsworth.
Many people lament the way bulb foliage looks once the flowers are spent. But that since yellowing foliage is manufacturing food supply for the bulb so you'll have flowers next year, don't cut, braid, or pull off those leaves and stems. Instead, try planting bulbs under deciduous shrubs or with perennials that will leaf out and disguise ripening foliage as the season progresses. Daylilies, for example, make a great companion perennial for daffodils; the strap-like leaves of daylilies nicely hide the similar foliage of the daffs.
Planting recommendations for spring bulbs
Like most plants, bulbs prefer a sunny spot, and rich, well-drained soil that has been well amended with compost or other organic matter. Many people purchase specially formulated bulb fertilizer with their bulb orders, and add a handful of this to the planting hole or trench.
The general rule of thumb is to plant bulbs three times as deep as they are tall, although with tulips I plant them even deeper in an effort to get them through more than one season. The pointed end of bulbs faces upwards in the planting hole; if you plant them upside down they will usually still flower-eventually-but they'll expend a lot of energy pushing up from that much deeper in the soil. If you can't determine "which end is up," try simply planting your bulbs on their side.<
Why not treat your garden to something a little different this year? Here are some personal favourites.
- Alliums: Alliums are flowering members of the onion family, and range in size from petite blossoms such as those on chives to the huge 'Globemaster' varieties with melon-sized blossom heads. Some particularly striking alliums to try include Star of Persia (A. cristophii), blue allium (A. caeruleum), drumstick allium (A. sphaerocephalon), and the unique 'Hair,' with green tentacle-like flowers.
- Camassia: This North American native flower, often referred to as Indian hyacinth, will grown in zone 5A and warmer, so most of us can give it a try. This late-spring, clump-forming bloomer prefers a moist but well-draining soil, and produces three to four-foot tall spikes of starry blue flowers.
- Chionodoxa: The glory-of-the-snow appears in April in our garden (as long as the snow is gone) and produces masses of starry flowers on six-inch stems. There are white and pink varieties available as well as several shades of blue; my personal favourite is the Wedgwood-blue natural colour, which I find the quickest to naturalize.
- Galanthus: Snowdrops are the quintessential harbinger of spring, sweetly fragrant and good naturalizers. Although there are hundreds of pricy varieties available for snowdrop connoisseurs, the most commonly available are a standard single-flowered variety and one with more elaborate double blossoms.
- Muscari: Grape hyacinths are much smaller and less flamboyant than their larger cousin, the hyacinth, but to my mind these long-blooming beauties give more bang for the gardening buck. Muscari come in shades of blue, yellow and pure white, as well as some bi-colour and double flower forms, and multiply quickly into colonies of sweetly scented blossoms.
- Narcissus: Whether you call them jonquils, daffodils or narcissus, there are hundreds of different varieties beyond the standard yellow daffodil. Try something a little different like one of the pink-flowered daffodils (which are usually more salmon-coloured than pink, despite what glossy catalogues would have you believe), or one of the petite-flowered varieties like 'Pipit' or 'Tete-a-Tete.'
- Puschkinia: Growing well in full sun to part shade, these unusual relatives of hyacinths produce spikes of white-and-blue-striped flowers on six-inch stems. Like other small-flowered bulbs, they multiply and work well in a rock garden or the front of a border.
- Scilla: If you love blue flowers, you need to plant scilla, also known as Siberian Squill. These low growing beauties produce masses of cobalt blue, nodding flowers, and will colonize beautifully in a woodland setting. Try interplanting them with yellow or white daffodils for a brilliant contrasting planting.
- Tulips: For more bang for your gardening buck, step away from the standard red, yellow, orange, and white standard tulips and seek out some of the fancier colours and forms. Unique forms include the fringed, lily-flowered, double and green tulips, as well as the stunningly beautiful parrot tulips, which look like flamenco dancers in their multi-coloured, ruffled petals.