By Vicki Spencer, Master Gardener
When helping my daughter garden I offered to share some spring-blooming bulbs. Even though she has always admired my garden, she surprised me by refusing some plants because they reminded her of an “old lady’s” garden. With all due respect, I consider all spring-blooming bulbs to be timeless. Most bloom faithfully year after year to bring early color that brightens every garden.
The crocus is well known for emerging first. Its delicate petals are not deterred by spring snow. Dutch Blue Moon Crocus mix, which may include some white and yellow flowers, provides striking purple blue color against a blanket of white snow. Crocus are often paired with later emerging hyacinths, tulips and daffodils.
Hyacinths — not to be confused with smaller grape hyacinths — are a favorite because they come in a variety of colors. Their flower clusters are so fragrant that visitors to the Denver Botanic Gardens often linger to take in the delightful aroma. Plant in clusters for greater impact.
This year’s abundance of spring moisture made tulips more brilliant than ever. Although Netherlands’ tulip mania ended mid-17th century, Americans continue to treasure tulips. Nurseries advertise 15 different categories distinguished by shape and bloom time. This makes it difficult to settle on just a few. Regardless of your selection, tulips are more striking when planted in clusters.
Unfortunately, tulip bulbs are known to attract deer and squirrels. After planting 90 bulbs last fall, I expected a colorful palette this spring, but was disappointed when only 30 plants emerged. I know I planted them correctly — pointed side up, root side down — so I wondered if animals took them, but I didn’t see any disturbed soil. Perhaps fall was too dry, the winter wasn’t cold enough or maybe I just bought a bad batch. If tulips don’t do well as perennials, they can be treated as annuals by digging them up in the fall, storing in a cool, dark place and replanting in the spring.
If you are like my daughter and want something unique, you might consider fritillaria. They are unusual because their tall stems carry a ring of bell shaped flowers that hang upside down from a crown of leaves. Fritillaria Orange’s bright petals look stunning when combined with yellow daffodils. Daffodils, which also come in pink and cream colors, are hardy in colder regions. They are toxic to deer and make great borders, not just for their beauty, but because they may deter deer from venturing further into your garden. This makes daffodils ideal for high-country gardens.
For shade gardens, one of my favorites is lily of the valley. Its white blossoms appear in April, giving off a delightful fragrance. Because it spreads readily it is considered invasive in some areas, but it forms a wonderful ground cover around trees where nothing else will grow.
Whichever spring-blooming bulbs you choose, the rule of thumb for planting is to dig a hole three times deeper than the height of the bulb. Make sure to fertilize and water the plated bulbs until the ground freezes. Bulbs start growing roots right away and will continue growing at a slower rate throughout winter until providing an explosion of color in spring.
Gardener Vicki Spencer has an eclectic background in conservation, water, natural resources and more.