Spring-Flowering Bulbs: 10 Great Varieties

Spring bulbs in a formal garden setting

Yesterday I supervised the planting of two thousand spring-flowering bulbs. We laid them individually in patterns and dug them one-by-one into the earth. When we were finished, we dressed the bulbs with a thick layer of mulch and stepped back to admire our handiwork. The garden felt like it was bursting with energy with so much promise tucked so snugly underground. Continue reading

Having A Ball With Alliums (Ornamental Onions)

Allium giganteum, also known as Giant Onion 

They look like they’ve jumped out of a Dr. Zeus book — giant purple balls stuck like lollipops on long flexible stems. Alliums can be a bit startling the first time you encounter them. But there’s so much to love about these drought tolerant plants, including long bloom period and resistance to most pests and diseases. And, their whimsical appeal is a sure-fire way to liven up your garden. Continue reading

What To Do If Your Spring Bulbs Come Up Too Early

(Last week it was 70 degrees, now it’s 20)

Let’s face it. It’s hard not to stress when your daffodils start popping up mid-winter. As weather becomes more unpredictable, early growth is becoming more and more common in spring bulbs. Not to worry, though. Your plants have seen it all before. Moreover, they’re built to handle a few temperature swings.

THE UNDERGROUND WORLD OF BULBS

To understand why spring bulbs can tolerate a little premature growth, it helps to take a peek underground.

Botanically speaking, a bulb is a short stem surrounded by fleshy leaves that store food during dormancy. As soon as you plant it in the fall, a spring bulb starts growing.

A bulb has five major parts:  a basal plate, scale leaves, protective tunic, a flowering shoot and lateral buds. The action begins in the basal plate.

During the winter months, roots emerge from this modified stem to penetrate the soil. 

Photo credit/University of Illinois Extension

As they develop, the roots absorb water and other nutrients that they store in the scale leaves. In some flower species like alliums, a thin papery covering called the tunic keeps the scales from damage or drying out.

Papery thin tunic keeps bulbs from drying out

As well as providing food storage, the scales also protect the flowering shoot. This vital part of the bulb contains all of the future leaves and flowers. During the winter months, the shoot grows upwards within the bulb, slowly developing into a stem.

Finally, at a pre-determined time in the spring, the leaves are the first to break through the soil. Then approximately one month later, the flowering shoot begins to appear.

At this stage in the process, the key thing to remember is this: the flowers develop independently of the leaves. 

This means that even if your bulbs (specifically, leaves) come up early, the flowering shoots still need time (between 5 and 7 weeks) to develop. And before that happens, your bulbs have most likely weathered the warm spell and resumed dormancy.

So if you see leaves poking up out of the ground too early, don’t worry. A cold snap may cause them to yellow and die back, but the bulb will wait things out and send up new growth once temperatures warm up again.

WAYS TO STOP YOUR BULBS FROM COMING UP TOO EARLY

There are a few strategies, however, that you can implement now to slow things down while providing an extra layer of protection to the flowering shoot.

1. COVER YOUR PLANT

Covering the soil around your spring bulbs will help insulate them against extreme winter weather like frigid temperatures and drying winds. Try mulch, straw, bark chips, leaves or pine needles.

Or, if the plant is budding too early, try draping a cloth over it (securing it above the plant with stakes.) Remove the drape during the day so the foliage can absorb sunlight to warm back up.

2. WATER DURING DRY SPELLS

If there’s been a dry spell for an extended period of time, a little extra water during the day helps bulbs grow. However, make sure your soil has good drainage. Bulbs sometimes rot if they receive too much water.

3.  IF FLOWERS START TO APPEAR

If the weather continues to stay unseasonably warm, your spring bulbs may start to produce flowers. Don’t worry. Even if frost kills off some of the initial buds, it usually won’t affect flowering in the coming months.

4. PLANT BULBS LATE IN THE FALL

The later in the fall you plant, the longer the bulb will take to sprout come spring. Wait until the temperature is cold enough (40°F or below at night) to plant your spring bulbs to ensure they are fully dormant. Here in Maryland, I plant my daffodils in late November.

Finally, make sure to plant your bulbs at three times their height in depth with the base down and the bud up. Planting bulbs too shallow leaves them vulnerable to frost heaves and can lead to premature growth. 

For a list of ten popular spring bulbs and when and how to plant them, click here.

Happy planting!

 

Ten Minor Bulbs to Plant Now for A Big Bang In the Spring

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Winter aconites blooming in the snow

One of my favorite places to visit in the early spring is Delaware’s historic Winterthur Gardens. The estate’s stunning 60-acre naturalistic garden has one of the finest displays of early spring bulbs around, all staged to flower successively in a colorful quilt woven of purples, pinks, blues, yellows and whites. And every year when the show begins on the garden’s famous March Bank, I vow that I will plant hundreds of these tiny bulbs the coming fall so that I, too, can bask in their miniature early-spring glory. Continue reading

Spring at Winterthur Gardens: The March Bank Takes Center Stage

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Growing up in Delaware’s Brandywine Valley, I looked forward each year to the first buds poking their tiny heads out of the ground on Winterthur Gardens’ March Bank. Planted over a century ago, the stunning display unfolds like a giant rose in the springtime, blanketing the dreary winter hillside with waves of vibrant color. For the area’s residents, the March Bank is the true harbinger of spring. It’s always worth a visit just to witness the joyous arrival of the tiny woodland flowers. Continue reading