Spring Blooming Bulbs
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Ever walk by an abandoned home where someone once lived and gardened and notice a blanket of spring-flowering daffodils? While the rest of the woods are bare, hundreds of daffodil blossoms form a cheerful carpet of bulbs perhaps where a garden once stood. Bulbs have and will stand the test of time. Their vigor and self-reliance inspire me to arrange and plant bulbs in my own garden.
Planting bulbs this winter is an easy way to guarantee a splash of color for your spring landscape. December through January is the appropriate time to plant spring-blooming bulbs in our region, but some varieties are a better investment than others.
Naturalized areas flourish when planted with bulb species and varieties that spread freely in fields, meadows, lawns and along wooded paths. When selecting bulbs for planting it is important to choose varieties that will perform well with no additional care after planting. The best spring-flowering bulbs for naturalizing are those that adapt to a broad range of climates, aren’t too fussy about moisture, light, or soil type and are vigorous without being invasive.
In addition to daffodils, the most reliably perennial spring-blooming bulbs for our climate are Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) with spikes of white, blue or pink blossoms that open the same time as azaleas; summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum), whose dainty spikes of white bell-shaped flowers resemble lily of the valley and open in April, and starflower (Ipheion uniflorum), a low growing early bloomer with icy blue, star-shaped blossoms. In addition to being perennial, these bulb varieties are rarely bothered by deer. Many gardeners like the look of tulips but remember that most tulips (excluding the species tulips) give a grand show the first year, but may not flower again. If they do the show is not dramatic. Many gardeners choose to treat hybrid tulips as annuals in the garden or plant species tulips that flower repeatedly.
Naturalized plantings are designed with gentle curves and undulating lines to create a flowing, informal design. There are many ways to achieve this look, from scattering bulbs across the planting area to placing bulbs in specific spots. The first method can produce a random pattern, while the second could be time-consuming. Using both techniques will provide you with the best coverage and design.
Once the bulbs are in place, go back and space them the proper distance apart. You may want to move some bulbs outside of the boundary line to create a more natural look. Fill in the empty spaces with the remaining bulbs. If you are planting more than one bulb species at a time, place the larger bulbs first, since their size makes them the focus of the planting. The smaller bulbs can be used to create the background.
For high impact, plant bulbs in solid masses or large sweeps. To add color and interest to existing beds and borders tuck bulbs between perennials and deciduous shrubs, where they will bring early color to otherwise dormant areas. Bulbs work well when planted underneath winter annuals such as pansies, violas, creating a layered effect when they come up to bloom in spring.
All bulbs prefer to grow in well-drained soil. A general rule of thumb for planting bulbs is to set them at a depth two to three times the size of the bulb.
When all the bulbs are in place it is time to start planting. Use a spade, trowel or bulb planter to penetrate the soil to the proper planting depth and place the bulb in the hole. Leave the holes open until all of the bulbs are planted so you know where they have already been placed. Water well and push the hole closed with the remaining soil. Take special care not to damage the bulb.
After planting, broadcast fertilizer over the planting area to encourage strong growth. Many people recommend using bonemeal, while a good source of phosphorus, it doesn’t supply enough nitrogen and potassium and attracts rodent pests to the planting area. Dried seaweed is a natural fertilizer better suited to fertilize bulbs. If using a synthetic fertilizer, choose a product specifically for bulbs or a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer.
After flower petals fade in the spring, remove flowers with scissors or snips. Foliage should be allowed to die naturally. To liven up the area after bulbs fade, plant the area with summer annuals. Another way to mask the fading foliage of spring bulbs is to interplant with daylilies. After the bulbs have bloomed, daylilies begin to grow their lush green, grass-like foliage that masks the tattered looking bulb foliage. This would work with any fast-growing spring emerging perennial.