Nothing says spring quite like a daffodil, crocus or tulip. Bulbs, however, can fill your garden with vibrant color from early spring through late summer. They are, in general, very hearty, easy to grow and care for, and will bloom year after year. With just a little effort, you can have colorful blooms from your bulbs all through the spring and summer. Daffodils, iris, tulips, gladiolus, hyacinth, and daylilies are just some of the many bulb favorites.
How to Choose Flower Bulbs:
Bulbs are easy to purchase over the internet. When buying bulbs, the larger the better in order to ensure a good bloom (bulb size is usually listed as DNI being the largest, DNII being smaller, and DNIII being smallest).
Good bulbs should also be firm (avoid signs of rotting or softness) and should not exhibit signs of external damage such as cracks and deep scratches. Avoid bulbs that are already growing shoots or roots. Before planting, keep bulbs stored in a cool, dry location without direct sunlight.
When deciding which type of bulb to purchase, think about timing. (Click here to find your Plant Hardiness Zone) Are you looking for color for early spring? mid-summer? Perhaps you would like several types of bulbs that bloom at different times so that you have color extended throughout spring and summer? (see Related Links below) Here are some recommendations for which bulbs bloom at what time.
List of Early Spring Blooms:
- Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow) – Hardy to Zone 3
- Galanthus (Snowdrop) – Hardy to Zone 3
- Eranthis (Winter Aconite) – Hardy to Zone 4
List of Mid-Spring Blooms:
- Hyacinthus (Hyacinth) – Hardy to Zone 3
- Muscari (Grape Hyacinth) – Hardy to Zone 3
- Narcissus (Daffodil) – Hardy to Zone 4
- Tulipa (Tulip) – Hardy to Zone 3
- Crocus (Crocus) – Hardy to Zone 3
- Anemone (Windflower) – Hardy to Zone 4
- Scilla (Bluebell) – Hardy to Zone 3
List of Late Spring Blooms:
- Allium (Allium) – Hardy to Zone 5
- Convallaria (Lily of the Valley) – Hardy to Zone 3
- Sparaxis (Harlequin Flower) – Hardy to Zone 9
- Trillium (Wood Lily) – Hardy to Zone 5
List of Early-to-Mid Summer Blooms:
- Gladiolus (Sword Lily) – Hardy to Zone 7
- Iris (Iris) – Hardy to Zone 4
- Dahlia (Dahlia) Hardy to Zone 8
- Hemerocallis (Daylily) – Hardy to Zone 4
- Lilium (Lily) – Hardy to Zone 4
- Ornithogalum (Star of Bethlehem) – Hardy to Zone 8
- Acidanthera (Peacock Flower) – Hardy to Zone 7
- Crocosmia (Montebretia) – Hardy to Zone 7
- Ranunculus (Persian Buttercup) – Hardy to Zone 7
List of Late Summer Blooms:
- Amaryllis (Belladonna Lily) – Hardy to Zone 7
- Colchicum (Meadow saffron) – Hardy to Zone 5
When and How to Plant Bulbs
As a rule of thumb, bulbs should be planted in the fall (roughly early to mid-October). You want to get the bulbs in the ground about six weeks before the ground starts to freeze. Plant the bulbs in well-prepared soil. Planting depth is determined by the type of bulb (4 inches deep for crocus, 6 inches deep for daffodils and hyacinths, 8 inches deep for tulips). Spacing is also determined by the type of the bulb, but, in general, plant bulbs about four to six inches apart. If you prefer a more formal look of rows, you may wish to invest in a bulb planter. If you desire a more natural, clumped look, dig a wider hole that can accommodate several bulbs (5 to 10) planted together. A small amount of fertilizer can be added at the bottom of each hole, then covered with a thin layer of soil so that the bulb is not resting directly on the fertilizer. Bulbs should be placed into the hole pointed end up with the flat rooting side facing down. Cover the holes with soil and give the bulbs a thorough soaking of water.
How to Care for Bulbs
Dead-heading (removing dead flowers) will allow the plants to put all their energy into new and existing flowers. Do not, however, remove the leaves once the flowers have gone until they start to turn brown.
In climates of zone 6 and below (click here to find your zone), many bulbs are hearty enough to make it through the winter in the ground. Varieties that are vulnerable to frost, such as dahlias, should be dug up and wintered in a frost-free environment. Better yet, unless you just have to have that dahlia, just opt to plant the varieties that can spend the winter in the ground.
Bulbs are a wonderful way (with minimal effort) to bring vibrant color to your garden throughout the spring and summer. With just a little work in the fall, you can enjoy beautiful blooms as early as next spring!