Earliest Blooming Spring Bulbs

  • Post published:02/11/2017
  • Post comments:9 Comments
Crocus on the Bridge of Flowers mid April
Crocus on the Bridge of Flowers mid April

As I write I don’t know what Punxatawny Phil saw or said the other day. If he saw his shadow we will have a long winter. If he did not see his shadow we will have an early spring. February 2 is half way between the Solstice, the first and shortest day of winter, and the Spring Equinox, first day of spring when night and day are equal in length.  So since we are halfway to spring it is pretty much a crapshoot.

Last year Phil predicted an early spring, but according to my records it got very cold after February 2, with below zero temperatures. Still there was no more snow, only rain until we had a light snow on the first day of spring. In all fairness, it had all melted by the end of the day. Does that count as an early spring? I think it probably does. Our backyard garden was clear of snow on Groundhog Day, but on February 25 it was flooded because of the rains, and because the heavy clay soil was frozen. Yet on March 20, the first day of spring, buds were swelling on the shrubs in the South Border and I went shopping  for more shrubs.

There were no flowers in my garden in the early spring of 2016, and once again last fall I missed the chance to buy the little bulbs that would give me the earliest spring blooms this year. However, I know I can soon put in my order for fall delivery, and not miss out again. By the first of April when the Bridge of Flowers opens, crocuses are the first blossoms dotting the beds. I want crocuses and more.

The crocus is often what first comes to mind when people think of the earliest spring blooming bulbs. There are two types of crocus. Species crocus are smaller, and bloom earlier than the showier large crocus, but all are deer and rodent resistant, and all will increase and colonize.

Species crocus come in all the familiar shades of white, gold, lavender, and violet. The tommasinianus, tommies, crocus have small blossoms, but the squirrels will not dig them up, and they will increase energetically.

The large crocus have the same color palette but they also have richer purple shades and the very showy large Yellow Mammoth. Crocuses can be planted through the fall, and into November.

Scillas on the Bridge of Flowers
Scillas on the Bridge of Flowers

I grew Glory of the Snow, scillas and grape hyacinths in Heath. The joy of these little bulbs is that they will spread, sometimes in inexplicable ways. Starry flowered Chionodoxa, comes in shades blue, pink and white and is only 5 or 6 inches tall.

Scillas or Siberian squills have delicate blue blossoms. People often plant them in the lawn where they bloom early in April and look like a piece of the sky has fallen on the grass. The foliage dies and disappears by the time the lawn has to be mowed. Remember with any bulb that the  foliage must be given time to drink lots of sun so the bulbs can renew themselves and produce even more flowers the next year.

I especially loved the grape hyacinths because they produced a larger, more vibrant blossom that made a bigger show. I grew the deep blue variety, but a look through any catalog will show you that they come in paler blue shades, in pale pink, white and even yellow. Some have two shades like Mount Hood which is deep blue with a white topknot.


I wanted to grow snowdrops just because of the name and then I loved the way they survived early spring snow falls.  After growing them in the lawn for a while I moved some of them “in the green” which is to say when they are beginning to bloom, to a spot in front of the house in front of a low stone wall which created a bit of a heat sink. They bloomed even earlier and where I could enjoy them more fully.

I don’t believe I have ever seen a garden with anemone blanda, three to six inch daisy-like plants, but I think they would make a beautiful spring groundcover. They come in shades of blue, pink and white. These can be counted on to be blooming in mid May.

Any of the little bulbs, the ones that bloom earliest in spring need to be planted in masses to make any kind of show, and  often come in bags of 25, 50 or 100 at modest cost. The easiest way to plant them is to dig up your chosen patch of soil, loosen and remove some of the soil and put it aside to be enriched with some compost. After they have been scattered so they are a few inches apart most of these bulbs will need to be covered with about four inches of soil.

Most of these early bulbs make a good underplanting for flowers that will come later. By the time your other perennials are putting out flowers the foliage of the little bulbs will have dried up and disappeared.

Smith College Spring Bulb Show
Smith College Spring Bulb Show

If you don’t have the patience to wait for your own bulbs, or your neighbor’s, to bloom remember the spring flower shows at Smith College and Mount Holyoke College will begin just a month from today on March 4 and run until March 19. Walking through the fragrant aisles of these carefully forced  hyacinths,  tulips and daffodils is just the reminder we need to remember that the first day of spring will arrive the day after the shows close.  Mark your calendars!

Between the Rows     February 4, 2017


This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Helen Opie

    You have awakened thoughts of spring in me! We have snow on the ground again and are in the coldest days of winter, true to the saying that as the days do lengthen, the cold doth strengthen. I’m burning wood at about twice the rate I did last week. And this too shall pass and soon we’ll all be starting seeds and having perfect gardens in our minds.

    Thanks for all the little spring flower bulbs information.

  2. Pat

    Helen – We received a lot of snow over the course of the last week and we sit here waiting for a promised blizzard. And yet the bedroom is lighter when I get up at 6:30 so I have every confidence that spring will arrived. I checked my journal and saw that last year on the first day of spring my neighbor and I went our shopping for shrubs – and got them in the ground immediately.

  3. Oh, I see we’re going to have a concatenation of Helens in your comments. What fun! Pat, I love Chionodoxa which does wonderfully in my dry shade garden. It doesn’t spread quite so willingly as it might under other conditions, but enough to gently add to the display each year. Sadly, Muscari are a bust for me, as are almost any form of Narcissus. They just don’t reappear. Too much root competition from the Norway maples, perhaps. A few welcome patches of snowdrops are the first signs of spring in my garden. I love them.

  4. I’m looking forward to them again this year! Last year, my ‘Woodland Blend Mix’ from Colorblends did not disappoint–the little area of the garden where I planted them all was alive with color! I wonder if they will all appear again this year. I’m already seeing Daffodils poking out of the soil. I’m sure we’ll have more snow in the next few weeks, but it’s exciting to see the start of spring. 🙂

  5. Pat

    Beth – No signs of spring here, but I do have confidence that it will arrive. I continue to dream of color.

  6. Pat

    Helen – There are so many mysteries in the garden. Missing narcissus? Yikes! I think snowdrops are wonderfully romantic – and tough.

  7. Rose

    Such a treat to see all these spring blooms, Pat! One of the things that make me enjoy spring blooms so much is that by the time spring comes around, I’ve forgotten what I planted the previous fall, so I am always surprised at the blooms I found:) I do know I planted more Puschkinia, the striped squill that I love; I can’t wait to see it.

  8. Helen Opie

    Re daffodils that disappear: We had two instances of mass planting of daffodils not reappearing after one spring of blooming. Both were very large areas, I believe 2 bushels of bulbs in each. As I recall, the supplier (Canadian) said that this how they had been bred – expecting more sales, I suppose. No community can keep buying more bulbs and getting volunteers out to plant the same area repeatedly. The 100 yard plus path going down to the main road so walkers avoid a long Y intersection were a river of yellow the first spring and just a few dots the next one. We hope that the survivors will slowly increase as they’re supposed to and in a decade the path will be flanked by two rivers of yellow with more patches in the grassy area it cuts across.

    Maybe your bulbs came from the same supplier in Holland?

  9. Pat

    Rose – I’m still learning where I can plant what in my garden that has so many wet spots, but I think I know just where to plant the early spring bulbs this fall.

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