Plant Fall Bulbs Now for Spring Color!
Planting bulbs this fall is fun and easy. It just about always guarantees a splash of color for your spring landscape. November through December is the preferred time to plant spring blooming bulbs in our region, but some varieties are a better investment of your time and money than others.
Not all bulb varieties can be counted on to come back year after year. Tulips are beautiful and shouts “spring is near” but they rarely bloom two consecutive years. On the other hand, daffodils are consistent bloomers. The most reliable is Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica). They have spikes of white, blue or pink blossoms that open the same time as azaleas. Other dependable bloomers are summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum), whose dainty spikes of white bell-shaped flowers resemble lily of the valley and open in April and starflower (Ipheon uniflorum), a low growing, early bloomer with icy blue, star shaped blossoms. Not only are these perennials, they are not favored by deer nor rabbits.
All daffodil types are not equally reliable. If you are looking for a classic large flowered yellow daffodil that will return and multiply for years to come, plant ‘Carlton’ or ‘St. Keverne’. For a splash of yellow very early in the season, try ‘February Gold’ or ‘Jack Snipe’, both of with bloom in February and are shorter than later blooming varieties. Also dependable are the varieties sometimes referred to as jonquils, which bear fragrant clusters of small flowers resembling paperwhites. Recommended selections include ‘Sweetness’, ‘Quail’, ‘Baby Moon’, ‘Minnow’, ‘Geranium’, and ‘Avalanche’. Daffodils should be one of the first bulbs planted and perform best when planted now, in October.
Other spring blooming bulbs can be counted on to come up and bloom the spring after they are planted but are less likely to return year after year. Some will come back and bloom for three or four years before dying out and may occasionally last longer when planted in perfect conditions. These include the many types of ornamental onions (Allium species), Dutch and grape hyacinths, anemones, Dutch iris, and Persian buttercups (Ranunculus).
Other bulbs should be thought of as annuals, providing color for just one spring, and if they do come back a second or third year consider it a bonus, but do not expect it. Bulbs in this category include tulips and crocus, which are favorites of deer, snowdrops (Galanthus), dwarf iris (Iris reticulata), and several types of early blooming, low growing bulbs with white or blue flowers that are commonly referred to as squills (Scilla, Chiondoxa, and Puschkinia).
Plant bulbs in solid masses or large sweeps for the “WOW” factor. To add color and interest to existing beds and borders, place bulbs between perennials and deciduous shrubs. They will show a pop of color early to those rather dormant areas. All bulbs prefer to grow in well-drained soil. There is always exceptions and the summer snowflake are one that grows happily in heavy, moist soil. In addition, bulbs perennialize well in sunny areas and under deciduous trees. A general rule of thumb for planting bulbs is to set them at a depth two to three times the size of the bulb; plant small bulbs roughly 3″ to 4″ deep, and larger bulbs such as daffodils at a depth of 8″. A slow release or organic fertilizer can be worked into the soil at planting time or applied in spring when bulb leaves begin to emerge. If there have been previous signs of underground critter activity, avoid using bloodmeal as a fertilizer since it attracts voles. After planting, cover the soil with mulch to help warm soil temperatures and to prevent weeds from germinating.