Tempus Fugit: Plant Those Bulbs Now
Allium 'Purple Sensation'
Long-stemmed Tulipa 'Menon,' great for cutting.
Some of the variety available in Daffodils.
There have been many Aprils when I kicked myself for not including bulb planting on my fall to-do List. If you are not aware of the timing necessary for this garden task, pay attention! In order to have tulips, daffodils and all the other glorious flowers that greet us when winter takes its leave, you have to plant them now. They must be planted in the fall because they require a sustained “dormant” period of cold temperatures to stimulate root development.
Nurseries should still have a good selection and online suppliers can ship you what you want in time, if you don’t dawdle. Getting them in the ground at least several weeks before the ground freezes ensures a beautiful spring show. The adage “less is more” does not apply when it comes to a bulb display. It’s better to go big in terms of numbers. You won’t regret the effort come spring. Here is a run-down of some of my favorite bulbs.
Alliums: A big bonus of planting alliums, also known as ornamental onions, is that they are all deer proof. The only drawback is that the profuse strappy basal foliage tends to become brown and tatty even before they bloom. It’s best to plant them amongst other perennials, like daylilies, which will emerge and camouflage their “ugly feet” by the time they are ready to bloom. “Purple Sensation” is a classic. One of the most reliable alliums, at 2 to 3’ inches tall with a softball-sized head, they tend to multiply and create a lovely colony after several years. My all-time fav is Allium schubertii, which grows on a one-foot stem and explodes like a mini fireworks display.
Daffodils: According to the American Daffodil Society, there are 32,000 named varieties of daffodils! When perusing images online, it is dizzying. Of course, there are hundreds of yellow-flowered varieties but look closely when shopping. There are also flowers with combinations of white, cream, lemon, peach, orange, and pink. If you shop carefully, you can have weeks and weeks of daffodils blooming in stages. Each variety has a designation of Early, Mid and Late, so select from these categories and extend your flower display which will start in April and bloom through late May. There are miniatures(‘Tete-a-Tete’), long-stemmed (‘Stratosphere’) and multiflowered ones on one stem (‘Sailboat’), to name just a few. Have fun taking advantage of the variety or keep it simple and go with a classic yellow Trumpet (‘Dutch Master’) or a preselected mixed bag. And plant loads of them! Bonus features: daffodils are deer proof and multiply over time.
Tulips: I sort of consider tulips as annuals because unlike daffodils, many tulips are not very long-lived and don’t reliably return for various reasons. But I like them so much that I happily plant some almost every year. That said, I personally have a few tulips that have been blooming in my garden for more than 20 years. Go figure. On a visit to Holland, I learned home gardeners there just plant all new tulip bulbs every year and when bloom is finished, yank and compost them so they don’t have to deal with the unsightly ripening foliage taking up space in their gardens for weeks and weeks. Tulips are candy to voles, squirrels, chipmunks and deer, so that could be a deterrent, investing in something you may never get to see flower. Annoyingly, critters can dig them up right after you plant them, as if they are watching and just waiting for you to turn your back! If the bulbs make it through the marauding rodent phase (and if you don’t have deer fencing) start spritzing the emerging foliage weekly with deer repellent as soon as they start showing themselves in the spring.
Some of you will not find all these potential hassles worth the effort, but I do. They are such a spectacular flower and have been hybridized in every color except blue. As with daffodils, you can purchase different varieties based on bloom time and extend the season. Of the 3,000 varieties in 15 different categories, it is hard to choose favorites, but some of mine are: late-blooming Viridiflora ‘Spring Green’ combined with black-flowered ‘Queen of the Night;’ any parrot tulip (so exotic); long- stemmed peachy-pink ‘Menton’ and early fragrant ‘Apricot Beauty.’
There are other favorite bulbs, but space limits my ability to palaver on and on. To get my tips on planting bulbs take a look at this column from last year.
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