When the cold winter nights turn into fresh cool crisp mornings and you find yourself gazing out your window to see if the last snow has melted yet, are you noticing those colorful signs of new life that are magically “springing” up?
Are you smiling yet? I have been; and I just can’t stop thinking about those beautiful sparks of plant life that effortlessly spring out of their sleeping bulbs to bring aesthetic joy into our lives. Think about it. It’s like they are letting out a big yawn and stretching out their arms to the sun. Waking up, raising up their heads, opening their eyes to smile sweetly and say “Good Morning! Look what a beautiful day it is!” Now, this is what I call good positive energy -a precious gift from nature!
After an unusually long and cold winter this year with lots and LOTS of snow, I was amazed to see those beautiful jewels popping up in places I didn’t even know had flowers just under the surface of the still cold earth. You see, last summer, my husband dug up lots of over-grown, out of control bushes that had been thickly planted all around our Idaho home. As I gazed out the window that cool morning, I realized that those colorful bulb plants were springing up from where those ugly bushes used to be. Now these beauties are finally free to grow and thrive again!
Seeing this unexpected miracle of life and beauty through no effort of my own, inspired me to find out how I could multiply this beauty, find a way to extend the colorful blooms and help them come back year after year. So, the research began. I have learned that, with minimal effort, we can continue to enjoy our bulb flowers for much of the year; and that with little to no maintenance, they will return year after year. This article is written to share my discoveries so that you can have this same ‘positive energy’ experience.
Choose Your Favorite Types of Bulb Flowers
First, you will need to learn a little about the many types of bulb flowers so that you can decide which of the hundreds of bulb flower varieties ‘speak’ to you? What do you want to see …and for how long? To give you an idea of some of the most common ones and their descriptions, here is a link to the Better Homes and Gardens Plant Dictionary -scroll down to the article that begins with: “76 Bulbs”. Here, you will find 4 pages of 76 bulb plant varieties listed in alphabetical order and described with pictures. Each bulb’s description includes: both the common and scientific name, its sun/shade preference, growth zones, height, and some specific information about it -like when it blooms and its problem solving uses. There are lots more sources of information; but, this is a very good one to start with.
TIP: If you do not know your area’s plant growth/hardiness zone, use this link to the USDA Plant Hardiness one Map. It is a great online interactive map that let’s you search by state and zip code.
So, if you are interested in the elegant Tulips, go to page 4 at that website. Who doesn’t LOVE these colorful flowers? And there are such incredible variations! Did you know that their long live and hardiness is attributed to the fact that they are variants of wildflowers? There are hybrids available with many color variations and that have bigger blooms than the wild species. Thirteen varieties are listed -ranging from 6 inches to 3 feet tall. All can be grown in zones 3-8 (all the way from the most northern to the most southern states in the United States). You will find a wide array of colors, shapes and patterns to choose from.
If the fresh dainty Daffodils are your favorite, their list of ten varieties starts on the first page and spills over onto page 2. The image of bright green foliage topped with yellow starred/buttercup faced flowers, come to mind when I think of Daffodils -which are actually the Narcissus variety of Daffodils. I was surprised to see the bright white-yellow Daffodil Narcissus varieties (like the Poet Types) with very unique shapes and patterns. Like tulips, Daffodils grow all over the U.S. and range from 6 inches to 3 feet in height.
Then, there are the pretty pastel colored Crocus bulbs that are usually the first to “spring” up and may be seen mixed in with the last drifts of snow. These plants truly seem magical to me. Crocus bulbs are very low maintenance. They are sometimes less than 6 inches tall and can grow as tall as 3 feet. Again, you will find a variety of color, shapes ind patterns. They have a nice clean fragrance and grow in almost all zones in the U.S. thriving in well-drained soil with partial sun. Did you know that the precious herb/spice Saffron is a little blue-purple colored Crocus that is less than 6 inches tall, loves the sun and is drought tolerant?
Finally, what about the exotic sweet-scented Muscuri bulb? Better known as the Grape Hyacinth which is listed on page 3. Its blooms are double formed rosette-like flowers that add intriguing texture. The color is a vibrant purple-blue or white; and smells amazingly like grape bubble-gum! Hybrids of the Hyacinth are available in pink and just about every other color, except black. All are heavily perfumed. They are taller plants (6-12 inches) and are usually seen planted in narrow clumps to form a flowing river effect used for borders or mixed in with shorter flowers. These flowers really add character to your bulb flower gardens. Again, they grow in most parts of the U.S. and are very low maintenance plants that prefer well-drained soil and partial sun.
Of course, I must include the lovely Lilies that many of us love so much. Again, there is such a wide variety of these amazingly hardy bulbs. Like the “Lily of the Valley”. How can such a tiny flower kiss the air with such tremendous scent? They have bell-like white or pale pink flowers spraying up from big green leaves. Stunning! They grow 6-12 inches and like most of these tubers, are deer resistant. They make great ground cover, provide sweet cut flower arrangements, and also make very nice container plants. These too easily grow all over the United States. Read more about this and other Lily varieties on page 3 .
I just can’t stop! One of my personal favorites is the later (summer) blooming Dahlia. Thanks to my sister-in-law’s gift of one of her bulbs and some guidance, I have grown dinner plate sized Dahlias that just take your breath away. The plethora of color, shape textures is like have a box of coloring crayons to work with. They provide colors that makes you feel like it’s spring time again or help you anticipate the glorious fall colors. They can grow quite tall -up to 8 feet! So if you like these bulb flowers make sure to plan for that. If you are in a colder zone than 8, you will need to dig these tubers up after the first frost and store for the winter. These beauties attract birds and make great fresh cut flower arrangements; but, do not have a noticeable fragrance. Come back to my site to read more about Dahlias and summer/fall flower gardens in a future article.
We have learned a l about Tulips, Daffodils, Crocus, Hyacinths, Lilies, and Dahlias. There are SO MANY more bulb flowers to chose from; like the Allium, Amaryllis, Freesia, Gladiola, and Iris …just to name a FEW! I am sure you will have fun browsing through the long list to get an idea of what most appeals to YOU. But, don’t make your final decision yet. We have more to see and learn.
Plan When to Plant Your Bulbs
Once you have a general idea of the type of bulb flowers you want in your gardens, you will need to begin planning for the right time to plant them. The bulbs need time to root and establish themselves. So, the best success route is to plant them at least six weeks before hard, ground-freezing frost is expected in your area or zone. Keep in mind that if you plant your bulbs too early it can lead to fungus or disease problems. A good rule of thumb is to plant bulbs when the average nighttime temperatures in your area are in the 40- to 50-degree range. At that point the soil temperature should be just perfect for tucking bulbs in for their winter’s rest underground. In colder northern climates, plant in September or October. In warmer climates you may need to plant bulbs in December (or even later).
If you miss planting your bulbs at the optimal time, don’t wait for spring or next fall. Bulbs aren’t like seeds. They won’t survive out of the ground indefinitely. If you find a sack of tulips or daffodils in January or February, plant them and take your chances. They will have a much better chance of survival in the ground (or in a pot located in a cool area) than wasting away in the garage or cupboard. Flower bulbs are survivors by nature’s design. Every year stories abound of bulbs that bloom after being planted under the most improbable circumstances.
Plan Your Bulb Flower Garden
Now that you know what you want to plant and when to plant them, it time to design your garden, prepare your soil and get those bulbs in the ground. First, select the area that works best for you and is the best environment for your bulbs and visible from your windows, porch, patio, street, etc. As you pick your area, take into consideration the soil composition and available sunlight/shade.
Designing your garden for the best presentation takes very little effort. You can even take a handful of bulbs and just throw them onto the prepared soil, Where they fall will be a great place to grow and will present a natural look. Of course you can also take a little more effort and design your garden so that each type of bulb flower is show-cased by using its height, color, blooming period, etc. You may want to plant the shorter or early bloomers in the front area and the taller bulbs in behind them or spaced in between. You may want to plant your bulbs so that the blooming season lasts as long as possible. You can design pretty patterns or use them to create borders for other plants. The presentation styles are endless. Design your garden according to your own liking and have fun doing it.
Preparing your soil is fairly easy as bulb flowers require mostly the same type of soil, water, and sun/shade environment. The soil should be loose and well drained. Depending on the soil composition, you may need to work in material like peat moss or mulch; and adding a good bulb fertilizer is a good idea. As your bulbs will like require various planting depths (normally twice the size of the bulb), be sure to work the soil down to the deepest depth needed.
Once your soil is prepared, you are ready to plant. Here is a great video from Dayton Nurseries that will give you ideas and advice for planning and designing your garden. It also provides great tips on selecting your bulbs and ‘how to’ plant instructions. Enjoy…
Create a Bulb Flower Garden Anywhere!
Bulb flowers can be creatively grown in small spaces and in containers for that very special splash of springtime color no matter where you live. You are only limited by your imagination. Turn just about any container into a garden brimming over with unbelievable color. Use the same type of bulbs mix with other types. They can be ingeniously layered for continued timed flow of color. Whether you plant your bulbs in a container or in a small garden area, the rules are only slightly modified to accommodate the space available without compromising the beauty effect.
Here is a great video put out by the Cleeve Nursery from ‘across the pond’ in the U.K. The owner, Alan Down, provides great tips on how to pot bulbs in layers along with some other gardening tips. I know you will enjoy the guidance provided here.
That concludes the research I have gathered thus far. I hope you get a lot out of this article and are able to use this information. Enjoy your spring bulb flowers in the very near future.
When is it too late to plant bulbs? -Better Homes and Gardens TV
— The Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center
Other sources are identified within this article.