Life offers few promises, but one thing you can depend on is spring-blooming bulbs. They're brilliant, they're dependable and you can have them growing in your yard if you act now.
There are hundreds of bulbs you can plant, and we encourage you to try them all -- that's the fun of bulb gardening. Here are some basic things to keep in mind when you plant your bulb garden.
Plan for height
It's your job to show your bulbs off to their best advantage, and it only makes sense to include the tall bloomers in the back of a border or bed and the short bloomers up front, where their cheery flowers will have the biggest impact.
- Small, front-of-the-border bulbs include garden snowdrop, dwarf iris and Siberan squill.
- Mid-range (12 to 24 inches tall) bulbs include allium, hyacinth, daffodil and tulips.
- Back-of-the-border bulbs (reaching heights of more than 24 inches): tulips (single and double lates and Darwins), crown imperial 'Rubra Maxima' and giant ornamental allium.
Capitalize on a bulb's internal clock
Bulbs have their own internal clockwork that allows them to bloom on a schedule. From early-season openers to late-season bloomers, there are bulbs that will keep your garden supplied with constant color from late winter through late spring when the perennials can take over.
As early as late February the early birds rise, some pushing bravely through the snow. Undeterred by reports of cold weather, bulbs like crocus, aconite, anemones, hyacinth and early-blooming narcissus such as 'February Gold' and Iris reticulata bloom. These tiny but mighty bulbs can even be planted under deciduous trees because they bloom before the trees leaf out and shade the garden.
While the early-bird blooms are just finishing up, these midseason bulbs will continue the color parade. The most marvelous of the midseason bloomers are narcissus and tulips, with a colorful and fragrant backup by the sturdy hyacinth.
Late spring brings a flush of new color and flower shape. The brilliant Dutch iris blooms in striking blues and purples and forms lovely clumps of lance-like foliage. Another white belle of the season is star of Bethlehem, whose starry pure blooms look great paired with the blue-hued Spanish blue bells. This is also the time that star of Persia and ornamental allium raise their purple, round heads in the garden.
Plant in drifts
Most bulbs are team players, not lone rangers. They look best planted in groups to create drifts of color. Avoid lining them up in military rows. They perform much better in the garden when planted in undefined, curving shapes.
Plants lots of bulbs for the biggest show of color in the spring (you'll always wish you'd planted more come April). Place them in your lawn, plant them under trees and shrubs, tuck them amid your perennials. In order for small bulbs to make a big impact, you need to plant them en masse -- as many as 50 to 100 bulbs per hole.
Make the most of your space
By interplanting two bulbs at once, you can get two blooms from the same space. For example, plant Siberian squill and 'Jack Snipe' narcissus together in the same bed. Both early bloomers, the Scilla creates a deep-blue sea on which the perky miniature blooms of this endearing miniature narcissus seem to float.