Naturalized bulbs
English Wood Hyacinths, or Spanish Bluebell, will naturalize in woodlands given some care to get started. Well-drained soil in partial shade.

Plant Bulbs in the Fall
for bloom in the spring

If gardening teaches you anything,it teaches the importance of timeliness:”To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven”. So, although I wanted to write about roses, it is more appropriate for an autumn addition to cover bulbs. That could be a pun, but we’ll overlook it.

Well, the fall planting season is upon us and it is time to pick out those adornments of the spring garden, hardy bulbs. I love a spring garden,and these are a major element. Without working this fall (and it is a small effort, really), you would miss out on the bright colors and cheerful appearance of the first signs of the growing season.

What to choose? Look over the plant lists and then view some gardens, then order a catalog or two. I have a review of some of the catalogs I found best, that you may want to look over. Many can be ordered, for free or little cost, online. Public gardens and arboretums are my favorites for seeing how actual plants look and garden design ideas, but walking along in a neighborhood with front yard gardens is educational, too.

Bulb Gardening Tips


Drawing of the bulbs, seed capsules and flower

Drawing of the bulbs, seed capsules and flower

Generally speaking, when picking out bulbs, you look for the same thing as in a head of iceberg lettuce: a feeling of weightiness for the size. This indicates moisture and healthiness. Bulbs that are advertised as ‘top-size’, kept somewhat cool, purchased from reputable catalog vendors or garden stores, are a good bet.

Of course, there are those wizened little bulbs like the Anemones and Eranthis…they are supposed to look like that; and you should not worry about their half-dead appearance. After purchasing your bulbs, just work up your soil, add some bone meal, plant at the depths stated, and a spring show is guaranteed. One more thing, don’t choose a boggy area for your bulbs since most of them come from places that are somewhat dry and resent sitting in wet soil. Now, if you are looking for Tulips and Daffodils, they are on the NEXT page of valuable Tulip and Daffodil information.

Not near enough people use the little bulbs,and so much can be done with them. They usually need to be planted in large amounts (unless you have some patience and can wait for the natural multiplication). I have seen a backyard in an older neighborhood simply covered in blue Scillas; and on a newly constructed mound, under trees, a small lake of blue grape hyacinths (Muscari).

I have my own stand of Puschkinias, Scillas, and Anemone blanda. These plants spread because they seed themselves, but they are never a nuisance. Plant the small bulbs in groups for the best effect.

Muscari closeup The minor bulbs are often used as an underplanting to the larger tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths. there are many combinations possible. Ready made pairings are sold to guarantee that the bloomtimes coincide. White Flower Farm shows a cheerful pairing of daffodils and Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) -inf act, they call it their “Spring Cheer Collection”. Small bulbs also pair with groundcovers and late emerging perennials such as hostas.

Some good combinations are: Tulip ‘Showwinner’ (red), with white Crocus; Tulip ‘Heart’s Delight’ with Scilla Siberica; Tulip ‘Red Riding Hood’ with Anemone Blanda ‘White Splendour’; Tulip ‘Pinocchio’ with Muscari armeniacum; Tulip ‘Couleur Cardinal’ (late) with Scilla siberica (early)

scilla and chionodoxia

Little Bulbs Can Make a Big Splash of Color

for a garden calender for seasonal tasks see Month by Month Garden Calender
Descriptions of the Minor Bulbs

For simplicity’s sake, names, descriptions and comments are listed.

Eranthis hyemalis bloom very early like little golden stars with green ruffs. They will slowly multiply and really hate disruption. Plant the little wizened corms in good soil and leave them alone. Fine with groundcover.

snow crocus

Snow Crocus
early bloom, but different types bloom at varied times. They are nice planted en masse, in groups of twenty or more in the front part of the garden. I really like them in a raised box.
Galanthus nivalis has white and green blooms and appears very early. Mine don’t multiply much, so buying the number desired is a good idea. The color is striking seen against evergreens or around Candytuft foliage. But we’re talking striking in a small scale way.
Anemone blanda
small flat daisy flowers in shades of pink, white, and blue with pretty foliage. They bloom a little later (near mid-spring) and seem to last a decent while. A slow spreader that looks pretty with the ‘Red Emperor” tulips.
Iris reticulata
the generic purple is my own favorite, it spreads when happy. I do understand these may be short-lived, and I can assure you they don’t care to be moved. At least, mine showed extreme displeasure.
these are not my first choice, because the color is so washed out, but when they spread, (which they do readily) the effect is pleasing. Sort of like a blue/grey cloud of flowers with the early daffodils.


now here’s my favorite, soft blue stars with white eyes showing up about mid season. The effect carries well visually. I like them anywhere, but I haven’t found the situation of perfection, yet. They are nice against the Ajuga metallica crispa. I need more of them this fall!
bloom a little after the Puschkinias in a bright green-tinged blue. These are cheerful looking spreaders. This type is the Scilla siberica.
these are the garden variety and look wonderful whether planted in naturalistic groups or lining a walkway. They are larger than the snow crocus and bloom later.
Grape Hyacinths
(Muscari) I have several types of these, and I like the Persian kind the best, ‘Muscari Tubergenianum’. It has neater foliage, spreads nicely, and has two-tone blue blooms.
The regular type, M. botryoides, is pretty , but the messy foliage cannot escape the blades of anxious mowers (they know who they are) around here. And you really have to allow the foliage to do what it wants both spring and fall, if you want to keep the flowers. I also have a white variety, ‘alba’, that stays small and in place. Pretty, but unprepossessing.
I have grown them in my urban garden, and now in my rural one. They usually bloom somewhat later than many of the small bulbs. The two small types that I placed in a rock garden were the Allium moly and Allium ostkowskiana.
The first is a citron yellow umbel of little flowers with larger foliage;the other has the nickname ‘Rosy Bells’ and has finer, grasslike foliage. Both are easy to grow, fairly showy and keep within the place allotted them.Alliums are also found in large sizes, commonly called the “Drumstick Allium”, and those are quite impressive.

Spring Bulbs

eranthisMost of the small bulbs ask very little in care and preparation.If you amend the planting area with some bonemeal, perhaps some sort of sand (greensand adds nutrients), and plant at the approximate depths recommended, you should have a fine stand of bulbs to delight you in future years. This is something the gardener looks forward to each year, especially in cold climates. That first snowdrop or the snow crocus humming with bees, speak of budding new life and promises breaking dormancy.

Delightful Combinations

There is nothing like a spring garden after the long winter dearth of color. Here are a few simple ideas that you can incorporate into your spring garden plans, just to whet your appetite and get your creative juices going.
  •  Allium Moly with a footing of ‘White Nancy’ Lamium maculatum.
  • Chionodoxia under the Forsythia bush near Alyssum saxatile… blue white and yellow are always a cheering combination
  • Crocus and Daffodils in tandem are classic
  • Make a carpet of snow crocus, Eranthis hyemalis, and Cyclamen coum
  • The Spanish Bluebell under magnolias (for the North that would be Magnolia x soulangiana)
  •  Yellow and White Eranthis (Aconites) and Nivalis (Snowdrops) create a sunny spot of color for early in the season.
  • Early narcissus like “February Gold” could be added or place them with Chionodoxia with Crocus vernus to coincide with Rhododendrons (if you can grow them, I can’t! They need acid soil conditions)

For more spring picture planning ideas, see “12 low growing spring perennials“. Bulbs For Fall Color? Yes | Plan an all white garden | More on making a white, or moon, garden.

Leucojum (Giant or Summer Snowflake)

Quicklist: hints and tips

  • Planted in Autumn
  • Benefit from added bonemeal
  • Look best in naturalistic drifts
  • Perfect under shrubs and trees
  • Allow bulb foliage to grow and disappear on its own
  • Can be planted within groundcover areas


Well, that’s my list! The Frittilarias and cyclamens are worth growing, as well. My hardy Cyclamens were doing beautifully, until my husband did some renovation work on that side of the house. They don’t mind shade or dryness, but trampling is an affront they will not tolerate. The bulbs are harder to find now and my purse is smaller- so they will remain a memory.

In the city, I grew a number of the specie tulips: the peppermint tulip,’T. clusiana’, was a slender, delicate beauty. I grew it in a lightly shaded area, although tulips almost always appreciate sun. In the rock garden,’T. dasystemon’ was fine: small, flat plants with yellow and white blooms. There was one called turkestanica or something, it was small and very similar in look. The Kaufmannias and Gregeii, I will have to list under my favorite tulips…….in Just Tulips! I very much enjoy the larger bulbs and blooms of drumstick alliums, they show up at the lull in the season between the spring and summer garden. Interesting in form and with blendable violet colors they are an under utilized and untrumpeted beauty.


A Mess Of Crocus

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