The little bulbs, those that bring us the earliest spring blooms include the familiar crocus, but they can also be from a host of other spring bloomers. Here are a handful of little bulbs that can help you get spring off to an early start.
Possibly the least well known and earliest bulbs to bloom are the winter aconites, Eranthus heymalis. These are members of the buttercup family and the bright yellow flowers look very much like buttercups but the plant is usually three or four inches tall, and never more than six inches. Because it is hardy to Zone 4 it can take temperatures of -30 degrees; it can bloom very early and may even come up through the snow.
Winter aconites like rich humsy soil that is moist and in partial shade. If it is really happy it will reseed itself. This is a very small bulb and in order to get a real show it should be planted with about 15 to a square foot. Fortunately you can get ten bulbs for $5 and 100 for $39.
Snowdrops are a member of the Galanthus genus which includes about 20 named species, most of which are six inches tall or less. However, Sam Arnott can reach a height of about 12 inches, as will G. nivalis Viridia-apice. These flowers are a bit larger than the aconites, and the standard is to plant 10 to a square foot in rich humusy soil in the shade. All snowdrops have nodding white blossoms with a green dot on the petals. They are hardy to Zone 3. Like aconites they may bloom in the snow early in the season. Prices vary depending on the species ranging from 50 for $36 – $107.
Crocuses have more substantial blooms about six inches tall. They come in colors from white to pale blue, to deep purple, and gold. They like dry soil, but all bulbs appreciate good humusy soil. After all, we want them to stay in the same place for years, increasing the population every year.
One species, Crocus tommasinianus, produces a small blossom but it does self- seed energetically and is a species most likely to thrive in a lawn. It blooms very early so the foliage dies back before the grass too unkempt. Other advice from the MissouriBotanical Garden, a favorite site of mine for dependable information, is that lawns planted with crocus should not be fertilized, watered or aerated. Well fed grass will out-complete the crocus. As with any bulb the foliage must be allowed to ripen before it is mowed down. They can be planted 10 to 15 per square foot. The ‘tommies’ should definitely be planted more densely.
Squirrels can do damage to crocus bulbs, but squirrels are less likely to find those planted in the lawn than when they are planted in flower beds.
Scillas are petite, but when planted thickly they are a reflection of the spring sky. Scilla siberica which reaches a height of about 10 inches will give you that sky blue but there are others. The white Scilla siberica alba is a bit shorter and blooms slightly earlier as does the delicately pink S. bifolia Rosea which blooms in the very early spring. Again, it is not very expensive to start a mass planting of scillas beause 100 tiny bulbs will cost $50 or less, and can be planted 10 per square foot.
Scillas will be happy in sun or shade, don’t mind a dry site and are pest resistant. I love grape hyacinths, muscari. I used to think they came in only a shade of bright blue, but there are now many varieties including Bellevalia which is almost black, to White Magic. In between is Golden Fragrance which is self explanatory and Valerie Finis, a very pale lavender with a long bloom period and M. armeniacum is very pale at the base of the bloom. All the grape hyacinths are pest resistant. No creature will be digging up the bulbs and eating them.
I planted snowdrops many years ago in what we called the orchard just beyond the vegetable garden. However, I rarely got to see them because I hardly ever walked down there in the very early spring. I finally dug some of them up “in the green” which is to say when they were blooming This is the only time I would be able to see where they were growing. I was much happier having them right in front of the house in front of a low stone wall where the snow melted first. I also planted a few snowdrop bulbs in the open space beneath a shrub. I could admire those sweet blossoms from a window.
I am now preparing to plant a border of crocuses, or maybe aconite, right along the sidewalk at the edge of what is striving to be a grassless lawn. There is sun for several hours before our giant sycamore leafs out. The soil is quite dry there, but I will enrich it with compost after I remove the sod, but before I plant the bulbs. With such tiny bulbs that need to be planted in relatively large numbers, it is easier to dig a clear space and scatter the bulbs, rather than digging a hole or even making an opening with your trowel to plant them singly.
When you order your bulbs they will come with full planting information including the depth at which they should be planted. For example,crocus should be planted 2-3 inches deep.
The older I get the shorter each season seems to get. Autumn is now officially upon us and I am planning for the spring.
Between the Rows October 1, 2016