It seems like any plant that grows from a bulb-like structure is considered a bulb these days.
Here are some common questions and answers on getting spring-flowering bulbs to grow.
Q: What is a hardy bulb?
A: These bulbs need a cold period in order to flower in the spring. In the North, they can stay outside all winter.
Southern gardeners either need to select varieties that adapt to mild winters or buy pre-cooled bulbs. Some growers do the work of nature by chilling the bulbs before selling them. Unfortunately, those blooms will only bloom once, so consider them annuals.
Q: When do I plant hardy bulbs?
A: Plant them in fall as temperatures drop—but not too early. That can result in fall growth that will be damaged during winter.
Q: Why aren't my tulips returning each spring?
A: If you've planted newer hybrids of tulip bulbs, they tend to put on a spectacular spring show, but only for a few years.
Hot summer temperatures also limit flowering. One solution is to purchase species or perennial-type tulips that tend to grow and flower for many seasons. Make sure to plant them 6 to 8 inches deep in moist, well-drained soil.
Cover plantings in winter with straw or marsh hay after the ground freezes. This will prevent early sprouting that often occurs during a winter thaw. Mulch the soil in summer with shredded leaves, pine needles or other organic material to keep the soil cool and moist.
Now you know the basics of planting spring flowering bulbs. Here are five great bulbs you can plant in fall for a dazzling spring show.
- Common Names: Allium, flowering onion and ornamental onion.
- Botanical Name: Allium species.
- Hardiness: Zones 2 to 8.
- Bloom Time: Late spring to fall.
- Size: 6 inches to 5 feet high, 12 to 18 inches or more wide.
- Flower: White, purple, blue, pink and yellow small star-, bell- or cup-shaped flowers grow in round cluster (ball-headed), or loose upright or drooping clusters (tufted).
- Light Needs: Full sun; some varieties tolerate partial shade.
- Growing Advice: Plant bulbs in fall at a depth two to three times their vertical diameter, but no deeper than 4 inches.
- Prize Picks: Giant allium grows 3 to 4 feet tall with a striking 6-inch purple flower head. Drumstick chives produce small tightly packed purple flower heads on 3-foot stems. Of the ornamental onions, Globemaster is widely available and justly popular. It grows 2 to 3 feet all, with 10-inch flower heads.
- Common Names: Daffodil.
- Botanical Name: Narcissus.
- Hardiness: Zones 2 to 9.
- Bloom Time: Late winter through spring.
- Size: 6 to 20 inches high.
- Flower: Yellow or white, some with orange pink or red flower parts; a distinctive trumpet, called a corona, surrounded by a ray of broad petals.
- Light needs: Full sun to partial shade.
- Growing Advice: Bulbs should be planted in early fall in northern areas and late fall in southern areas. Bury bulbs 2 to 3 times their diameter and 4 to 8 inches apart. Divide every 5 to 7 years or as needed.
- Prize Picks: For a unique-looking daffodil, try a double cultivar like pale yellow Bridal Crown, which produces numerous double, sweetly-scented flowers. If your tastes are more traditional, stick with trumpet cultivars, like the yellow Dutch Master.
- Common Names: Hyacinth, Dutch hyacinth, common hyacinth and garden hyacinth.
- Botanical Name: Hyacinthus orientalis.
- Hardiness: Zones 4 to 9.
- Bloom Time: Spring.
- Size: 6 to 10 inches high and 6 to 9 inches wide.
- Flower: White, cream, yellow, orange, apricot, salmon, blue, violet, pink, purple and red; rounded spikes of tubular, bell-shaped single or double flowers.
- Light needs: Full sun to partial shade.
- Growing Advice: Plant bulbs 6 inches deep, 6 to 9 inches apart, from late September until the ground freezes in cold regions, or late October to December in milder climates. Mulch to discourage early sprouting.
- Prize Picks: For scent-sational flowers, plant the violet-lilac-colored Amethyst. Blue Jacket produces distinctive navy blue flowers with purple veins. The Caribbean hyacinth collection produces tropical blooms.
- Common Names: Snowdrop.
- Botanical Name: Galanthus nivalis.
- Hardiness: Zones 3 to 9.
- Bloom Time: Late winter to early spring.
- Size: 4 to 6 inches high.
- Flowers: Three white outer petals surround green-tipped inner petals in a distinctive drooping teardrop shape.
- Light Needs: Partial shade.
- Growing Advice: Snowdrops are especially attractive in naturalized settings and under deciduous trees and shrubs. They work well in borders and rock gardens, too.
- Prize Picks: Giant snowdrop, Galanthus elwesii, is twice as big and blooms two weeks earlier.
- Common Names: Tulip.
- Botanical Name: Tulipa.
- Hardiness: Zones 4 to 6. Most tulips require a long winter to bloom. In warmer climates, they can be forced to bloom by chilling bulbs in the refrigerator for 8 to 10 weeks before planting.
- Bloom Time: Early to late spring.
- Size: 6 to 40 inches high, and 3 to 6 inches wide.
- Flower: Nearly all colors are available except true black and true blue. There are also many bicolor, blended and streaked varieties.
- Light needs: Full sun.
- Growing Advice: Plant firm bulbs 5 to 6 inches deep with the pointed ends facing up. Place bulbs 6 inches apart, cover and water well. To create a bigger impact, cluster many bulbs of the same color. After the tulips bloom, do not remove the leaves until they turn yellow. This feeds the bulb, to fuel the next flowering season.
- Prize Picks: Aleppo, a fringed raspberry-red variety will truly stand out with its feathered orange edges. Other interesting classes of cultivar include parrot, goblet-shaped, and star-shaped. Also try botanical varieties like the dark pink Tulipa bakeri for blooms that return for years to come.