Anemone blanda, or the windflower, will bloom in mid to late April. Short and very attractive, it’s one of the minor bulbs that’s great in mass plantings or as an “edger.” It naturalizes, lasts for years and years, and doesn’t seem to be bothered by rodents.
With the sod “peeled” back, the crocus bulbs are laid out. A small amount of soil can be used as backfill, then the sod is simply laid back over the bulbs. ANDREW MESSINGER
Frittilaria imperialis flowers in early to mid-April. While quite striking and unusual, deer and rodents avoid this bulb and plant as it does not have a pleasant scent. ANDREW MESSINGER
Lily bulbs are planted fairly deep and often in groups. Sand was added at the bottom to aid in draining in a somewhat clayey soil. ANDREW MESSINGER
This blue variety of Chionodoxa can flower in late February in a southern exposure but usually flowers in March. It’s the blue relative of glory of the snow. ANDREW MESSINGER
Botanical tulips, or species tulips, may not be as striking as some of the taller hybrids, but these will return year after year in naturalized plantings. ANDREW MESSINGER
A simple push-type bulb planter can be indispensible and costs under 10 bucks. ANDREW MESSINGER
When shopping for bulbs locally, look for these types of “bulk” bins where you can buy individual bulbs or dozens of them. Remember to put each variety in a separate labeled bag. ANDREW MESSINGER
This bulb-planting auger called a Roto Planter (center) gets attached to a drill, making bulb planting fast and simple. A number of styles are available and quality varies, so look at them closely. ANDREW MESSINGER
This week we wrap up our brief look at spring-flowering bulbs as well as a look at what we refer to as the “minor” bulbs. Minor is a misnomer of sorts, though, because these smaller bulbs can put on quite a display through the spring season.
Once you decide what bulbs you want to plant, you need to find the location. It’s kind of backward, and I’m guilty of this as well. Most of us end up buying the bulbs first and only when they arrive do we try to figure out where they’re going. One thing to keep in mind is that while most of these bulbs thrive in full sun, there are many places in the landscape that do get full sun in April and well into May before the foliage on the deciduous trees fill in and create shade. By the end of May when most of our bulbs are done and the bulb foliage is beginning to fade, shade fills in — and at that point it’s really not an issue.
Some go through intricate steps in getting the bulb planting installed. It can start with blocking out the planted area with stakes, sticks or flags. If you want an irregular planting area like a drift, then simply laying string around the bed perimeter can work well.
Keep in mind, if you are planting into a lawn the bulb foliage needs to mature and brown before being cut down. This can create aesthetic issues for some. And no, the bulb foliage shouldn’t be tied up to keep it tidy.
Once the planting area is decided on, the next step is the planting. How will you get the bulbs into the ground? Some only go a few inches down like the minor bulbs, but lilies and the larger Alliums need to go 6 to as much as 8 inches deep. This can be a challenge when planting dozens, let alone hundreds of bulbs. But we have tools, oh yes, we have tools.
Manual bulb planters are as simple as a hand-held planter that’s a hollow cylinder of metal with a sharp bottom end and a handle. These are 9 to 12 inches long and you simply push the sharp end into the soil or sod, rotate it to create a circular cut and pull out the “plug” of sod and soil. If the soil is damp it may stay intact as a plug that can simply be put back in the hole as long as you cut several inches off the bottom so the plug fits the original space sans room for the bulb. A small pail of loose soil nearby can be used to fill around the bulb, then the plug goes back in.
These bulb planters generally cost about $10 and some have inch markings on the outside so you can gauge the depth of your planting. If you invest more, you can buy planters with longer handles so you’re not on your knees while doing the planting, and some also have foot rests just above the planter body so you can put one foot on the rest and use your body weight to push the planter into the soil. Some of these larger planters can get heavy, so that has to be a consideration — though the heavier ones will last for years and years.
For larger plantings, there are bulb-planting auger attachments that can be used with battery or electric-powered drills that make the planting faster and efficient. These drill attachments come in various widths and lengths starting at about 2 inches in diameter then going up to around 3 inches. Be careful with these because when they snag a root or a stone under the sod they can give you a good kickback. This is rare in our sandy soils, but it does happen.
Be mindful of planting depths and bulb spacing. Sparsely planted areas can look, well, sparse. Overplanting can result in colors not standing out when the bulbs flower and foliage that gets in the way of other flowers. On the other hand, if you are planting, let’s say, tulips, to grow for cut flowers, then spacing can be pretty tight.
If you decide to take the unnecessary step of adding fertilizer to your plantings, the fertilizer needs to go under the bulb — but not make contact with the bulb. Make your hole a half-inch deeper, add the fertilizer, then cover the fertilizer with a little soil prior to dropping the bulb into the hole.
And what about protecting your bulbs from rodents and deer? This is where the Bobbex-R comes in. When you know where the bulbs are going, you can spread them out on the ground and spray them with the Bobbex or put the Bobbex in a pail and dip them. Let the bulbs dry for a while, then plant them. Wear gloves while doing this or you will become a walking, talking rodent repellent. Not a pleasant scent.
Once planted and the holes filled, the area needs a good watering to initiate root growth. If there’s a couple of inches of rain in the forecast in the next few days, then no need to water.
Most tulips will flower for two years then fade away. The exception is species tulips and naturalizing tulips, which last much longer. Plant your tulips first, early in the month. Daffodils will flower for several years, but if you want a stand that will flower for years and years then plant the types that are noted as good for naturalizing. Daffodils do not need to be treated with a repellent, as they are not sought by deer or rodents.
Fritillaries are among the first major bulbs to flower and they are totally deer and rodent proof. These bulbs, especially the taller flowering ones, can be quite spectacular even though their flowers tend to aim downward. You will not be cutting these frits to bring into the house, though. They smell pretty foul but are said to keep deer out of the garden for a few weeks.
As for a few of the minor bulbs: Galanthus (snowdrop) is generally the first to pop up through the snow or from below the winter leaf cover. Most are single flowered but there is a double form and a giant form (elwessi) that has not only larger flowers but larger foliage as well. Snowdrops should be planted where they’ll be noticed — along paths, the drip line of pine trees or near doors and gates. Once planted, they self seed and naturalize. They are best suited in part-shade.
Right after the Galanthus come a bulbous species in the Iris family, Iris reticulata. In shades of dark and light blue or purple, it looks like its larger cousins and is both fragrant and very hardy. Blooming at the same time is Iris danfordiae which has tiny golden flowers that are followed by the foliage. Both species need full sun and should be planted on 2-inch centers.
As the Crocus (also a minor bulb) begins to fade, the Chionodoxa is the first of a trio of blue-flowering bulbs that appear from March through April. The best known species is luciliae, which is pale blue with a white center resembling a six-pointed star. Six to 18 of these tiny flowers per spike form a striking patch of blue, but the species is also available in white and pink. Used mostly in rockeries, they need full sun and should be planted in groups of a dozen or more.
Puschkinia libanotica, or the striped squill, is also a pale blue and often confused with Chionodoxa. It has a denser flower head and a dark blue stripe on the petals.
Scilla siberica rounds out the blue trio in April. It has a strong color and hardiness, and it naturalizes well in either sun or shade with no particular soil preferences. For an earlier bloom you can use the species bifolia or the two-leafed squill, which has a rich blue flower, or tubergeniana with a soft blue bloom.
Tritelia, the spring star-flower, is a confusing little plant with pale blue blooms in April. The six-petaled blooms rise singly above grass-like foliage and form wide, spreading clumps.
Ornithogalum umbellatum (star of Bethlehem) is a neglected little flower that yields 12 to 20 star-shaped white flowers on stalks rising above attractive mounds of grassy foliage that starts to emerge in late February. This bulb multiplies rapidly and some ungrateful souls say it can be weedy. On the other side, it thrives in our poor soils, and I think they’re great.
Muscari, or grape hyacinths, are one of my favorites ever since we did a mass planting many years ago. Every spring this drift in the lawn erupts into a fragrant blue flag of 4-inch pyramids that can last four to six weeks. The Muscari, also available in white, will thrive in sun or shade in nearly any soil but pure sand. Some varieties send up their foliage in the fall (much to the surprise and mystery of their owners), but this is normal and the foliage will often remain through the winter.
Near the end of the list of little bulbs is Scilla campanulata (sometimes also called hispanica), the wood hyacinth. Appearing in May, this bulb prefers the shade and works out well in woodland settings. The dainty bell flowers come in pink, blue or white, hanging in loose clusters on upright stalks. Keep growing.
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