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Four months of color, a beginner's guide to spring flowering bulbs.

Bulbs sold in the garden stores in the fall are those that flower in the spring. They include the familiar Tulips, Daffodils, Hyacinths and Crocus as well as wide array of other interesting bulb rooted flowers that will be covered in more detail later in this article.

Most of these bulbs require a cold period in order to bloom properly which is why we plant them in the fall. The rule of thumb with them is to buy them in September when the selection is at it's peak and plant them about mid October. Planting them in mid October to late November in the greater Cincinnati area prevents them from prematurely sprouting before the soil temperatures begin to drop off.

Over winter the bulbs work to put down roots so that when the weather begins to break in the spring they can release the energy stored over winter and burst forth with the blooms we all enjoy so much :)

Planting them----

The general rule here is to plant them to a depth equal to three times the height of the bulb itself.
Well amended organic soil with good drainage works best for most species. A pinch of bone meal or other non burning granular source of phosphorous is a welcome treat for them as well :)
One trick I've found to plant a quick and showy bulb garden is to skin off a section of turf, place bulbs in whatever pattern you might desire and then simply cover the bed with about 6-8" of Cypress or hardwood mulch and water it in. The mulch protects the bulbs, they root into the existing soil and they explode next spring! Using a succsession of bloom times will give the gardener up to four months of continuous color!

Spring flowering bulbs are broken down into groups based on time of bloom beginning with very early (mid february to early March ) and finishing up with very late (mid to late May). Some of the Alliums bloom in early summer adding another two weeks to the succession of bloom.

Very early bulbs--------

Tulip kaufmanniana - grow 8-10" tall and come in several colors.

Crocus - Two species of note are Crocus vernus and Crocus chrysanthus which naturalize. Crocus are short by nature but since they pop before most other plants can used anywhere in the flower bed to give some nice early spring color!

Snow drops - Galanthus nivilis. They grow to only 4" in height with dainty winged white flowers. With good soil they also naturalize and will multiply over the years. These as well as other early bloomers are greta additions to shade beds giving an extra season to the bed before Hostas and Astilbes beging to break :)

Eranthis hyemalis - Winter aconite. A nice little splash of yellow growing to only 3".

Iris danfordiae - Unusual little yellow iris with fragrant flowers. Growing to only 6" tall it adds a touch of warmth to the early spring garden.

 

Early bulbs------------

Daffodils - The earliest of this tough and showy genus are the cyclamineus types. They grow in a range of height from 6-12" depending on variety.
The familiar tete-a-tete and Jack Snipe are of this species.

Daffodil King Alfred - This is the familiar yellow daffodil. It falls in the trumpet group of Narcissus and can used virtually anywhere! I have even seen mass plantings on grassy slopes. Since the grass hasn't really started to grow it adds a burst of color where you'd least expect it. When the flowers finish the area is then mowed to return to lawn :) Pretty clever huh? :)

Tulips - Some Kaufmanniana varieties also fall into this bloom window. There is also a unique multiflowered species tulip called "praestans fusilier" that blooms in this window. It produces many shiny red blooms from a single bulb and grows to about 14". A sport of this variety exists with variegated green and white foliage call "praestans unicum". Be prepared to pay a hefty price for it though! It is very slow to multiply...

Hyacinths - The earliest of these fragrant beauties start in this window.

Scilla siberica - Also known as Siberian squill it produces masses of deep blue flowers on 5" plants.
Extremely long lived they are great for natualizing into woodland gardens, amoungst shrubs or wherever the soil is good.

 

Early to mid season bulbs--------------------

Tulip greigii - 12-14" Like the kaufmannianas come in several colors. Some varieties will also naturalize giving many years of enjoyment!

Tulips single early - The first to flower of the formal and familiar tulips.

Fosteriana tulips - They feature elongated petals that are narrower than standard tulip flowers. They grow to about 16-18" depending on variety.

Hyacinths - A wide range of hyacinths bloom in this window. For fragrance it's hard to beat hyacinths!

Daffodils - Small and large cupped as well as some double varieties. The cupped types are pretty much the formal daffodil flower and come in a range of varieties. Like all daffodils these natuaralize well into the landscape and will multiply over the years. The doubles have full and frilly centers and add a nice touch of something different to the spring garden :)

Muscari - Grape hyacinth. Not really a hyacinth the cute blue spikes do resemble miniature hyacinths. It grows to about 6" in height and naturalizes well.

Anemone blanda - Daisy flowers in shades of pink, blue, rose and white on 6" tall plants.

Mid season bulbs------------

Tulips darwin hybrids - These are formal tulips growing bearing their flowers on 22-24" stems. They come in wide array of colors. Often considered the "fanciest" of tulip varieties.

Tulips double early - These cuties have flowers that resemble peonies. They grow from 10-16" depending on variety and come in a range of colors.

Double flowered daffodils - A wide range of these frilly centered daffs fall into this bloom window.

Frittilaria - Two varieties of thses unusual plants bloom at this time. Rubra is a scarlet red. Lutea is yellow. They have spikey foliage that throws a stalk up about 3' in height where a small tuft of foliage drops a mass of bell shaped flowers that kind of resembles a pineapple. These bulbs also have a scent that is supposed to repel moles and rodents. The cultivar Lutea has been grwon since 1665 giving this plant a rich history!

Hyacinths - There are numerous hyacinth varieties that fall into this window as well including a double flowered variety called "hollyhock" whose individual florets resemble the flowers of it's namesake :)

Mid to late season bulbs---------------

Triumph tulips - 20-22" in height they broaden the range of tulip colors available and fill in the gaps in the seasonal bloom succession. There is also a nice pink called "new design" with variegated foliage. The flowers have the formal tulip shape and size.

Lily flowered tulips - These range in height from 20-24". A range of colors is available although most varieties I've seen in this type tend to be bi-colors. They a unique flower shape that is rounded at the base tapering up to narrow points at the tips of the petals. To this writer's eye they lend a "playful" look to the flowerbed :)

Late flowering bulbs-------------------

Allium purple sensation - 4" diameter airy purple globes atop 30" tall stems. The flowers last for 3 weeks +. They can also be use for cut or dried flowers giving this plant a wide range of versatility in or out of the garden!

Tulips single late - Colors galore! Perhaps the widest range of colors available in tulips. The "black" variety "queen of night" falls into this group as well as blues, oranges, reds, pinks, yellows and bi-colors. If a there's a color tulips come in there's a single late variety that has it :)

Tulips double late - Taller growing than the double early varieties these grow from 20-22" and come in a range of colors with the fully double "peony" flower form.

Fringed tulips - Ranging in height from 18-24" these unusual beauties have the shape and size of the formal tulip flower with lacy fringed edges on the petals. Useful where a less formal "airy" texture is desired :)

Parrot tulips - Exotic! Height ranges from 16-28" and the petals are ruffled around the entire edge. There are some truly exotic bi-colors in this group!

Tulips greigii - Late flowering varites in this group also :)

Double daffodils - A nice selection of these also bloom in the late bulb window.

Anemone coronaria - Poppy shaped bloom 4" across on compact 10" plants. Colors range in blue, pink, white and rose shades. Available in single or double varieties. Each root produces 3 to 5 flowers.


Very late season bulbs-----------------

Scilla campanulata - Ecxellent perennial companion for hostas, astilbes and ferns in the shade garden they come in shades of pink, blue and white. Dainty bell shaped flowers are borne on 10" stalks.

Camassia esculenta - Also known as quamash. It like wet heavy soil and is great for pond or stream edges. Feathery blue flower spikes on 30" stems. This plant is also edible but at present I don't have a recipe for it :)

Hyacinth amethestinus - This cousin to the more familiar orientalis varieties grows 12" tall and has small white bell shaped flowers on open spikes.
These also naturalize well.

Sicilian honey garlic - Clusters of creamy green bell shaped flowers with purple centers on tall 36" stems. This one also has a botanical name sure to delight the science lover :) Nectaroscordum siculum subspecies bulgaricum, hows that for a mouthful!
A definite conversation piece for those who like the differnet and unusual species!

Allium ostrowskianum - Very hardy dwarf variety with loose rose globes. Likes sun and is well suited for rock gardens.

Iris hollandica - 22" tall, they come in blue, white and yellow. They also make good cut flowers.
Flowers are similar in shape and size to Iris siberica.

Early summer flowering bulbs ----------

Allium giganteum - With dense purple globes just a bit smaller than a soccer ball on 4' stalks these certainly make a show! They do naturalize as do most alliums but are slow to multiply.

Allium caeruleum - blue globes on 22" stalks. Very long lasting and will bloom for about an entire month!

What to look for when purchasing bulbs------

There are varying grades in bulbs especially Tulips, Daffodils and Hyacinths. Rule of thumb, you get what you pay for. We generally stock the top grades in our boxed bulbs. 12+ cm on tulips, double and triple nosed on daffs etc. The bigger the bulb the more stored energy, the nicer the flower :)
You will also find less expensive smaller bulbs available for considerably less money. These are always an option especially if you wish to do mass displays using hundreds of bulbs where the smaller flower size doesn't matter due to the shear quantity within the planting. We also stock some common colors of tulips, mixed daffodils, and the ever popular yellow trumpet daffodil in this smaller less expensive grade.

By picking some bulbs from each of the bloom time windows you'll easily give your garden four months of color next spring from bulbs planted this fall!