By Kathy Valentine
Oh, how we love the first color of spring in our gardens. Bright crocus, tulips and daffodils planted in September and October really lift our spirits in March and April. For those of us with deer or rabbits, hyacinths, daffodils and even alliums are good choices to minimize the predations of the hungry herds, as these bulbs are toxic, taste bad, or both. Tulips come in many colors and bloom times, but they require full sun to thrive and often bloom just 2-3 years before fading away. Definitely worth the investment if they are your favorites, but don’t be shocked if they slowly disappear while those daffodils become more numerous. Snowdrops, English bluebells and winter aconite are less fussy and more likely to thrive. Spring bloomers that will gradually multiply and spread are labeled as easy to “naturalize”. There are actually hundreds of species of flowering bulbs, and the color themes and coordinating bloom times can be a great fun to plan.
Planting in existing perennial beds will make digging easier and allow the foliage of the perennials to hide the fading foliage after the bulbs bloom. This is important, as the plant must store energy in the bulb after bloom or it won’t bloom the next year. Leave the foliage until it is yellow and floppy, even if you have to bend it down to tuck it under the hostas or hardy geraniums.
Crocus, wood anemone, muscari, scilla and snowdrops can be strewn and then planted right in the lawn. They will bloom before mowing begins, and their foliage stays low anyway, but leave the lawn mowing for at least a month after these bulbs bloom, again, allowing the foliage to store energy for blooms next year. Cut the lawn a little higher than normal the first week or two if the bulb foliage is till green.
Because you plant bulbs in fall, once the night temperatures begin to cool, you have to remember the locations of any bulbs already in place, as most have no visible foliage in fall. The star bulb performer for fall display is the colchicum, or fall crocus. These vivid fuchsia lovelies actually put up sizable foliage in the spring, which then fades away as most other bulb foliage is fading. These leaves are large and thick, so the browning mass of plant material in late spring or early summer can resemble a compost pile until you trim and rake them out from your perennials. Come September, suddenly there are masses of beautiful flowers which seem to leap to life in just a couple of days. If nights are cool, they last 10-14 days before fading. These beauties are an investment, often $10 per bulb, so look for a friend who has some that can be dug and divided either after the foliage fades or after the flowers are done for the year.
Most bulbs benefit from a granular fertilizer application after flowering. Never plant bulbs in wet or heavy clay soil. Know that tulips especially are candy to not only browsers but digging rodents as well. Experiment with a few varieties of the less expensive and commonly available bulbs, and enjoy seeing what they add to your garden display.
Kathy Valentine enjoys gardening and her family at her Watertown Township home. Her Michigan State University Horticulture degree was a beginning for a life of learning about and working with plants. Kathy is senior partner at The Plant Professionals located at 16886 Turner St, Lansing, MI 48906. It is an interior and exterior landscape design , installation and service firm also offering green walls and plants and flowers for events. She may be reached at