Tulip, hyacinth and daffodil bulbs re-appear every fall in the
aisles of nurseries and home improvement stores, reminding shoppers
to make room for them in the garden. However, there are lesser-known
bulbs, corms and tubers that can be planted in the fall. These
little bulbs add charm and surprise to the late winter and spring
“Minor” bulbs, as
they are called, are inexpensive and easy to plant. They’re
usually packaged in larger quantities and are planted only 3-4
inches deep. Like all bulbs, their most important cultural
requirement is good drainage.
through nearly frozen ground while snow is still flying. There
are hundreds of species and cultivars of these bulbs, including
the familiar crocus and grape hyacinths.
Long bloom period
selecting minor bulbs, gardeners can enjoy their delicate
presence from late February through early May. All are
deer-resistant and are listed by flowering time:
(Galanthus) are the first little bulbs to bloom. They tolerate
full sun to shade and usually last several weeks in late winter
and very early spring. Plant them under a canopy of trees with
ferns and hostas. Bring a few indoors to study their amazing
green and white coloration and pattern, especially the inner
tepals, which look like a little bell in the center of the
aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) is a buttercup-like flower
surround by a ruffled green “collar” or bracts. The tubers
should be soaked overnight in tepid water and planted the next
day. These happy little flowers can be tucked anywhere but look
terrific in front of deep green boxwood or beneath the yellow
catkins of Harry Lauder’s walking stick.
squill (Scilla siberica) is a tough little bulb that blooms
in a rare cobalt blue. It appears in late March and blooms for
about a month. If you have early-blooming magnolias, plant a
bunch of squill beneath them and enjoy the contrast of bright
blue flowers and pink, white or yellow saucers on the trees.
• Glory of
the snow (Chionodoxa spp.) are similar to Siberian squills
but their range of colors include lighter blues with a white
eye. Try the pretty pink cultivar ‘Pink Giant’ in front of a
planting of Helleborus orientalis with its range of plum colored
starflower (Ipheion spp.) Its name perfectly describes the
flower perched atop grass-like foliage. It blooms in late April
through early May and looks great with daffodils such as
‘Thalia’ and ‘Hawera.’
While the impact
of a single flower can’t match a giant tulip, a group of 50
snowdrops will make you anticipate spring at the end of a long,
cold winter. And, unlike tulips that last only a year or two, a
planting of minor bulbs will get larger every year.
How to plant
dig a patch to the depth recommended by the grower. Make it an
irregular shape and space the bulbs with a bit of variation in
distance between each. The bulbs mentioned can be planted 10-20
per square foot. Cover them with the excavated soil.
After they bloom
it is important to allow the foliage to turn yellow and brown.
Resist the temptation to cut it back when tidying the garden.
The good news is that the foliage is small and it disappears
quicker than larger bulbs.
If you’re buying
from a local vendor, be sure the bulbs, corms or tubers are
plump and firm. Mail-order sources stock more unusual varieties.
The following vendors offer quality bulbs and have a long track
record of good service: Brent & Becky’s, Dutch Gardens, John Scheepers and McClure & Zimmerman.
Flower bulb photos