Best Blooming Bulbs Ever!
I still get excited every Spring to see the bulb blooms poking through the snow and the crusty leaves in our gardens. It’s a joyous feeling to see what you planted return the favor by cheering up a grey winter day. With just a little effort in the fall, you too can have a garden filled with colorful blooms every Spring.
FROM OUR GARDENS
OUR EARLIEST BLOOMERS:
The first to poke through even snow are the Crocus. Crocus is part of the Iridaceae family (Iris). These low growing beauties will thrive in just about any soil type, in both sun and part shade. They have upright cup shaped flowers on underground stems with relatively large blooms from late winter to early spring, in shades of white, purple, orange and yellow. Bold purple and gold blooms create a pop of bright color against the snow. They’re easy to naturalize, which means planting many bulbs in the same area so they look like Mother Nature put them there herself. This technique actually makes your job easier, which I will explain in the How To section below.
The Glory-of-the-Snow, Chionodoxa, blooms close behind the Crocus, sometimes also popping through the snow. They will quickly self sow, filling the bed with more blooms each spring. They’re tiny bulbs, like the Crocus, so very little digging is needed to plant them.
Next are the Muscari “Grape Hyacinths, the small purple blooms in the photos below. They have a long bloom time, for at least a month. I have planted masses of them in nearly every bed, creating a beautiful compliment to both the early and late blooming Daffodils and Tulips. They’re fabulous planted under a spring blooming tree like a Redbud or Serviceberry.
OUR MID-SPRING BLOOMERS:
I started planting Daffodils with our son Daniel when he was 4 years old. We called them Danny’s Daffodils because he helped me plant 60 bulbs all over the front yard with me, patiently adding bone meal to each hole, covering up each bulb with dirt and watering. He brought the first blooms in to me every Spring. 20 years later he’s grown up and out but his Daffodils still bloom for me every year.
TULIPS come in so many different colors and color combinations, from deep purple to white. There are varieties in more than one color, striped, fringed and double petals too. Mix and match them with each other and other spring flowers to create color combinations. If you’re not sure where to start, just start with your favorite colors and go from there. You can add more each fall.
The first two photos are the early blooming variety. The taller red tulips are late blooming. The orange Tulip is a random find which means it was probably moved there by a squirrel. Not sure if they’re critical of my design skills or just playing with me. Either way, I kinda like what they did here.
These soft pink Tulips are also late bloomers. You can see how much taller they are. The “Grape Hyacinths” are at the feet of the pale pink Tulips with some later blooming yellow Daffodils coming up behind them both.
This last photo is a bright yellow Daffodil growing straight through low growing rose bushes. They’re tough, ignoring the thick thorny bush to get time in the sun. I didn’t plant this Daffodil in the middle of a rose bush, a squirrel did. I think they just like moving things around when they’re bored, but I’m cool with the result. It looks really cool.
HOW TO CREATE YOUR OWN BULB GARDEN
Growing Spring blooming bulbs is seriously easy. They require little care once planted other than watering. They do not need to be fussed with at all once established.
1 – Plant the bulbs when the temperatures reach 40 to 50 F, nose (pointy) side up, 2 to 3 times deep as the bulb is tall. Each bag of bulbs you purchase will have the recommended planting depth and distance on the back.
2 – If you’re removing grass to create a new bed, add compost (mushroom, worm, or your own) and peat moss to bring the bed back to level height. Do not till or turn over the existing soil or add top soil. Each will compact the soil in the bed, destroying the health of the soil. The same rule goes for adding bulbs to an existing bed. There is no need to turn over or til the soil.
3 – You can plant more than one type of bulb in the same bed by placing the largest bulbs first and deepest, followed by the next size, with the smallest last as those need less soil covering them.
4 – Add a bit (about a tablespoon) of bone meal to each hole, under the bulb roots. This will feed the bulb until the plant emerges through the soil next Spring. Then the new green leaves and stems will feed the bulbs. If your soil has a lot of clay or is dry and compacted, I recommend adding a handful of peat moss to the bone meal in each hole and then mix some peat moss and compost covering the bulb bed. This will greatly improve the condition of the soil.
20 years ago our soil was mostly clay. We used only compost, bone meal and peat moss when we planted our beds and then covered the new beds with mulch. That’s it. No extra fertilizer. By the next Spring, the soil had already improved, becoming a rich black loam within 2 years.
5 – Cover the bulb bed with 2 -3 inches of mulch (this can be a combo of peat and compost instead of traditional wood mulch) and thoroughly water. Planting them in the fall should mean that Mother Nature will water the beds weekly for you, but she can be fickle sometimes. So take notice if you have a dry week and then be sure to water your newly planted bulbs. You will not need to do this the following years as the bulbs should be well established.
CARING FOR YOUR NEW BLOOMS
There is little care needed once the plants have emerged. They’re very hardy, bouncing back from even a late spring snow. Some gardening sites recommend fertilizing each spring before bloom, however, if you have added peat moss and compost, covered them beds with mulch, and watered them the first months you have planted them, then you won’t need to add any additional fertilizer ever. The green parts of the plant make their own bulb food using the sunshine.
1 – After their blooms have faded, you can remove them. Removing the spent blooms prevents seed pods from forming which insures energy will be directed to the bulbs instead of producing new seeds.
This is a Daffodil in our backyard ready to be dead headed. You can see where it needs to be cut, just below the seed pod, leaving the stem and leaves to soak up the sunshine.
2 – Do not cut back or remove the stems and leaves until they have faded to brown and flopped over. The stems and leaves produce the sugars that accumulate in the bulb which create your brilliant blooms next spring.
3 – Plant perennials and annuals that bloom after the bulbs which will then detract from the flopping greens. A hardy groundcover will also cover up the floppers.
HOW TO DESIGN A NATURALIZED BED
Drawing inspiration from woodlands and meadows, bulbs are planted en masse, filling the space with color, creating glorious visual impact.
1 – Use bulbs that are not fussy about the soil or climate, including sun or part-shade/shade. Those include Hyacinths, Glory-of-the-Snow, Crocus, Snowdrops, Bluebells, Muscari (Grape Hyacinths), and Daffodils. Tulips can add pops of color among the mass of uniform color created with the naturalized bulbs, but they need full sun, and most of the naturalized bulbs do not. If you are adding Tulips, keep this in mind.
2 – Consider using bulbs that grow closer to the ground as a Spring ground cover underneath bushes and trees. They bloom before most trees and bushes start budding and greening, creating a mass of flowing understory color. A spot that is shady Summer to Fall, can be filled with a bright color pallet in the Spring.
3 – Create beds under trees and around bushes (understory planting) by removing the grass and creating a brand new space or planting the bulbs right in the grass. Scatter the bulbs on top of the beds, or on top of the grass around the bushes and trees. Then double back and plant each one individually. This technique helps you visualize the design. If you need to draw the bed out on paper first to give yourself a map, measure the area and include the plants that are already there or you intend to add.
4 – When you are creating the design, think about whether you want colors that compliment each other for a calming effect, or that contrast with each other for a burst of energy.
Some Color Options
Pure white Daffodils (Thalia) growing in a bed of purple Muscari is a dramatic color combination.
A shade brightening combo planted under a deciduous tree would be a bed of fragrant paperwhite Daffodils and ‘Spring Green’ (white) tulips. Add evergreen boxwood shrubs to give it structure and provide some contrast.
Combine bright yellow Daffodils with pink Hyacinths or pink Tulips with purple Muscari at their feet.
White Tulips planted with white Daffodils that have a yellow center creates a soothing creamy dream. Add low growing white Anemone to continue the white theme or punch up the color with pink Hyacinths.
The combinations are endless and well worth spending the time figuring out what you like and what works in your garden. Start with your favorite colors!
Of course, if you find the job a little tedious, it always helps to have a gardening buddy. My guy, Donny, actually liked to smell the flowers. He enjoyed the garden, no matter the weather, but he actually tip toed through the Daffodils and Tulips, like wasn’t 95 pounds. If you don’t have a live in garden buddy, no worries, the birds will keep you company and throw in a tune for free.