Bulbs serve as bookends for the gardening season. Planting them is one of the last creative things many gardeners do before the ground freezes and it is too cold to do much work outdoors.

Come spring, bulbs are the first flowers to blossom, some flowering above the snow in those years that the snow lasts until late March and early April.

I wrote about bulbs last year, providing basic information and covering the most common flowering bulbs such as daffodils, tulips and hyacinths. If you plant a lot of those, in clumps of five or more of a single variety, your garden will have vibrant colors from April through June, in among the perennials and shrubs that make up the backbone of a home’s landscape.

But you can create a more diverse landscape by adding some bulbs that not everyone will have.

One that my wife, Nancy, and I are trying this year is chionodoxa, with the common name glory-of-the-snow. As the name implies, this is an early blooming flower, that in some years will come up before all the snow has melted.

Several chionodoxa come in an almost true blue, which is somewhat unusual to find in a garden plant, while others are pink, violet or white. They are deer-proof, and bees love them because they provide needed food early in the season when not much else is in bloom.

Instructions say to plant them 4 inches deep and 4 inches apart, but planting any bulbs more deeply than the instructions suggest won’t hurt them and in some cases, as when critters like to eat them, can be beneficial.

Anemones are another early blooming bulb that bees love. These are low-growing plants that create a kind of ground cover, and they naturalize well, coming back year after year. With the common name Grecian windflower, they come in shades of blue, pink and white. And, yes, there are anemones in bloom in some gardens this fall – those are the perennials. The bulb anemones are about 2 inches tall and bloom in the spring.

Alliums are growing, excuse the pun, in popularity. These ornamental onions come with blossoms in many colors, shapes and sizes. Some blossoms are about the size of a grape while others, such as Schubertii, can be about a foot across. Even after the blossoms have gone by, the seed heads on many of them remain throughout the season, providing more visual interest. Alliums blossom later in the season, after the daffodils and tulips have gone by, and are virtually foolproof. They are deer and rodent-proof, too.

Another early blooming bulb is iris, but not the the bearded, Siberian and Japanese iris that are standard features of the Maine perennial gardens. Sometimes called rock-garden irises, although they don’t have to be planted in rock gardens, they naturalize well and come up year after year. Iris reticulata is the most common of these, but several related varieties exist. They are fairly short, growing only 4 to 6 inches tall. They come in blue, white and yellow, and have all three colors in a single plant. Plant them at least 4 inches deep.

Crocus is one of the most popular early blooming plants. They come in the entire rainbow of colors and also are friendly to bees. Two basic types of crocus are available. Species crocus blossom about two weeks before the Dutch large-flowering crocus. Some people put species crocus in their lawns, creating a wonderful blanket of color early in the spring. The blossoms will have gone by and the foliage will have done its job by the first time the lawn has to be mowed. A few won’t do. John Scheepers, a bulb catalog company in Connecticut, offers a mixed collection of 250 bulbs for less than $40. Dutch large-flowering crocus are a bit larger and blossom later, so they go in the front of garden beds instead of the lawn. But again, they look better if planted in a mass to create a blanket of blossoms.

I would not plant crocuses beside your driveway, where your snowplow puts all your snow. Sometimes that snow pile takes forever to melt away, which would mean your crocus won’t bloom as early as you’d like. Plant them in a spot that you can see from a window. You’ll be glad to see them next spring.

Muscari, or grape hyacinth, are another bulb that wants to be planted in a mass. They blossom in April or May and come in blue, purple or white. One advantage of muscari is that the foliage stays alive throughout the growing season, while the foliage of larger and more expensive tulips and daffodils disappear shortly after they bloom. If you plant a muscari bulb beside the expensive bulbs, you will know to be careful in that area when looking for places to plant perennials later in the season.

A couple of other early blooming bulbs good for naturalizing in woods and meadows are galanthus, or snowdrops, and scilla, or wood squill. They are bee-friendly, virtually animal-proof and they will come back year after year, if you plant them properly.

So buy and plant some bulbs. The blossoms will give you something to look forward to when the winter temperatures dip below zero and keep you inside.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

[email protected]

 

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