It’s easy to dream of spring bulbs amid the drudgery of fall leaf raking and garden cleanup. Luckily, now is the time to purchase and plant them for a colorful show.
With thousands of varieties available at garden centers or through catalogs and websites, the choices seem endless. Plant them well before the ground freezes: They need time to develop roots and be prepared for the required chilling period. Most bulbs need to be planted in holes two to three times their height in sunny, well-drained locations. Plant them generously for the biggest show.
Brent Heath, co-owner of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, Va., and Christian Curless, horticulturist at Colorblends of Bridgeport, Conn., offered suggestions for new and underused bulbs to try.
▪ Beyond yellow daffodils: Consider unconventional colors like green and pink. “While there’s nothing wrong with yellow or white daffodils, the daffodil world is deep and wide in colors,” says Curless, pointing to the Pistachio daffodil.
Heath suggests the coral-pink-and-white Chromacolor, as well as Dallas and Green-Eyed Lady, which are white with green centers.
▪ Vibrant tulips: Curless gushes over the multicolored Beauty of Apeldoorn, a yellow tulip with streaks of red, and Moris Gudanov, a double version with similar color markings. “At Colorblends, blending different tulip combinations is our thing, so we’re always looking for varieties that are multicolored,” he says. Green hybrids (Madonna and Spring Green) are relative newcomers.
▪ Critter-resistant bulbs: Curless says there are several deer- and rodent-proof bulb options in the amaryllis family, including daffodils and alliums; these bulbs contain a bitter, poisonous substance called lycorine that mammals won’t eat.
Other bulbs such as grape hyacinths and squill have a smell or flavor that’s undesirable to deer and rodents.
▪ Returning Darwin hybrid tulips: Tulips aren’t very good perennials; Curless suggests the Darwin hybrids as offering the most promise for a repeat season of spring blooms.
For best results, Heath recommends planting them deep (8 to 10 inches) and breaking off the blooms’ old seed heads to help plants conserve energy and prevent disease for the following season.
▪ After-April alliums: Extend the spring bulb show with bulbs that will bloom from May to early June. Alliums, ornamental onion bulbs, are hardy, long-lasting and lovely.
Heath recommends Gladiator for its softball-size blooms and strong stems; it’s 3 to 4 feet tall. He cautions gardeners not to overwater these and other alliums. “After blooming, they like to sleep in a dry bed during their summer dormant period,” he says.
For a smaller, more affordable option, Curless suggests Moly alliums.
▪ Container minis: Heath’s newest daffodils — the award-winning Golden Echo, Beautiful Eyes and Bahama Beach — offer multiple fragrant blooms and are suited for container displays. He suggests potting a mix of daffodils, tulips and hyacinth for a “living floral arrangement.” Once potted, overwinter the container in a garage or protected porch until spring temperatures rise above the teens. Move the pot outdoors and await the spring blooms.
▪ Unsung snowflakes and bluebells: Discover Spanish bluebells and summer snowflakes, two underused, deer-resistant treasures. For Spanish bluebells, Heath prefers Excelsior, with its supersized blossoms. He suggests planting them in river-like swaths in shade or sun.
Snowflakes, he says, are great performers throughout the country. “They tolerate most conditions, even damp areas and some shade,” he says. “Plus, they are showier and less invasive than lily of the valley.”
▪ Wild tulips: Plant ancient tulip varieties discovered in far-off places such as Turkish alpine meadows or Asian mountainsides. “In spring, many people want brash color, but several species tulips like Tinka are charming and delightful,” Curless says. As predecessors to today’s bold hybrids, these dainty varieties are being grown and sold for their nostalgia and adaptability.