Bulb flowers: Extending their bloom time

By Mary Ellen Shaw

When the second half of March rolls around I start checking my flower gardens looking for signs of future flowers. I can usually see something making an attempt to burst forth.

In my gardens snowdrops win the prize for blooming first. They are a bulb flower so the cold of winter provides the dormant period that they need. The warmer weather forces their blooms. My snowdrops are in a protected area and late March is when they come to life. I planted them in a section near our bird feeders. On a sunny day I like to bring a chair over there and read. My “feathered friends” entertain me. When they get “chatty,” I can’t resist looking up from my book to see what is going on.

Soon after the snowdrops burst forth the hellebores (Lenten rose) appear. I have two colors of that flower, cream and deep mauve. It’s exciting to see color after the white snow of winter. It’s a sign of things to come!

An assortment of colors is indicative of spring. That happens when crocuses come into bloom. Among the color choices are: yellow, blue, purple, lavender, cream and variegated. Planted in large groups they are striking. They require little maintenance and natural spreading provides even more color as years go by.

Dwarf irises are one of my favorites. The “Katharine Hodgkin” variety with blue as the dominant color and blotches of yellow is a flower that I look forward to seeing every year. They are an early bloomer like the crocuses.

Bulb flowers have a short life span but there is always another type to follow what is currently in bloom.

In my garden the daffodils are next to burst through. They are available in early, mid-and late season varieties. I especially enjoy those with one color on the petals and another color for the cup of the flower. Among the two-color daffodils choices are: yellow and orange, white and orange, pink and orange, white and yellow. Some varieties even have ruffled edges, which are a striking feature. In spite of all the fancy options my favorite is a basic yellow daffodil because they are like a burst of sunshine after a cold dark winter.

More color is abundant once hyacinth and tulips come into bloom. The fragrance of hyacinth is something I look forward to each year. I place a group of them near the city sidewalk to be enjoyed by people who walk by. Pink, blue, apricot and yellow are my favorite colors. Those shades show off nicely in the garden.

Tulips are also available in early, mid and late varieties. They can be enjoyed a few weeks longer when you take advantage of those options. There are probably more tulip colors than any other bulb flower. You can grow double blossoms and even ruffled tulips.

Muscari (grape hyacinth) is another attractive blub flower. Pink, blue, purple and white are your color choices. They create a drift effect when planted in large groups. Placing the blue variety in front of yellow or pink flowers really shows off their charm. The bulbs multiply giving you more each season.

Alliums are unique as they can be tall or short, come in white, yellow, pink, purple or blue and bloom from spring until mid-summer depending on the variety. I have cranberry color alliums whose clusters look stunning against the petals of light colored flowers arranged in a pretty vase.

Keep in mind that critters like bulbs as much as we like the flowers. There are numerous ways to lessen their damage such as planting each bulb in a wire cage, using critter repellents such as garlic or red pepper flakes. But I take my chances and do nothing. I always see evidence that bulbs have been removed but the critters are kind enough to leave plenty to be enjoyed in the spring. I plant over 100 bulbs each fall and that increases the odds of being rewarded by lots of color in the spring.

You will need to wait until next fall to plant your spring bulbs. But soon you will have the opportunity to take a look at some public gardens and get ideas for your own garden next spring.

Any unusual bulbs, which can’t be found in local garden centers, should be ordered by June. Most places will not ship your order until it’s planting time in Vermont. 

Enjoy the array of garden colors which will be coming our way soon!

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