Early in the spring, we often get anxious for better weather and more time outdoors. One of the things that can help us with that is to plant spring blooming bulbs in our landscapes and gardens. The time for planting spring blooming bulbs is in the fall, but this might help you plan your garden for the future or help you know what plant you are seeing that is blooming this time of year. Mark it in your garden journal to ensure you purchase the correct bulbs for your landscape in the fall. Always purchase bulbs when you are in the correct season for planting them to ensure best growth.
Minor bulbs are the small, early flowering bulbs that can grow with very little input from us. Basically, we plant them and then allow to grow and naturalize on their own. These bulbs flower very early, sometimes when snow is still on the ground. Minor bulbs include things like snowdrops, crocus, grape hyacinth and squill or scilla.
Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, is a very early bloomer. These bulbs will bloom well before the last snow of the year, typically in March. The leaves are narrow, similar to grass and each bulb produces one white flower that hangs down from the flower stalk like a shepherd’s hook. The flower has tepals not petals, which are petals that are not completely divided. The plant is very small, only 6 inches tall and wide and they will colonize in ideal growing conditions. It prefers to grow in part shade to shade locations with consistently moist soil, not soggy. They don’t last long into early summer when the leaves will turn brown and can then be removed.
Siberian Squill, Scilla sibirica, is a small bulb that grows well on the edge of the understory of deciduous trees. This plant only grows to 6 inches tall and wide and has dark green, grass-like leaves. The leaves emerge early in the spring, just before the flowers appear. The flowers are nodding, blue, and star-shaped. One to three flowers are held on each flower stalk and they bloom in March and April. The plant will go dormant by early spring, so no leaves will even be present through the summer months.
Crocus vernus is one of my favorite minor bulbs. Crocus blooms in March or early April with flowers that have six petals, with the three on the outside often having stripes on them. The 2-3 inch blooms can range in color from white to purple to yellow and will close up on cloudy days and at night. Crocus has grasslike foliage that is very narrow and has a white stripe down the center. This plant will bloom before the foliage fully appears and then after only a few weeks, the whole plant is dormant again.
Grape Hyacinth, Muscari armeniacum, is a minor bulb that will naturalize and form small colonies, sometimes in undesired locations. These bulbs have long clusters of small, bluish-purple, bell-shaped flowers that face downward. The flowers are very fragrant and in a colony, they can be smelled from a distance. They bloom in April and May. Grape hyacinth has grass-like foliage that is longer than the flower stalks. The flowers on grape hyacinth appear after the leaves are already up and partially worn from weather damage. This bulb can grow in full sun to part shade and are a favorite food of rabbits.
The best way to get real impact from any of these bulbs is to plant in masses. Just planting a few of each won’t give you the effect you want. Over time, they will colonize to build impact, but it will take a while if you don’t start with very many. With all bulbs, wait until the leaves have turned yellow or brown before removing them to ensure the bulbs can build the sugars they need to get started and flower early next spring. You can remove the flower stalk, but leave the leaves.