Fall Savings on Spring Flowers
By Lois Hole
One of the best ways to save money on spring-flowering bulbs is to choose top-quality varieties that naturalize.
Bulbs that naturalize spread from a single plant into many, producing more flowers each year from a single planting. Species-type tulips, for example, do this, while hybrid tulips tend to fade out after a few years, and new ones need to be added in order to continue the spring floral show. Species tulips, on the other hand, will spread to the extent that eventually you may want to divide and replant some of them in another area of the garden.
Hardiness is another factor to keep in mind. All crocuses naturalize, but the large-flowering Dutch types will not survive unless provided with a protected location in the garden, such as in a east or west-facing bed against the house. The early-blooming wild crocuses, however, can be planted anywhere in the yard. The species Chrysanthus often blooms while snow still reamins in shaded areas of the garden.
Daffodils and narcissus also naturalize. Keep in mind, though, that with novelty types with pink, ruffled or double blooms, you are trading stunning flowers for hardiness. The small-flowered, rock-garden types of narcissus are also very hardy, and have fragrant, long-lasting blooms.
Offset Cheery, bright yellow daffodils with the blue flowers of grape hyacinths (Muscari) and Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum). Star-of-Bethlehem bears dense clusters of white or blue starry flowers on long-stems.
Squills are another hardy spring delight. Siberian Squills (Scilla) survive for years and years, and march through the garden with clusters of star-shaped, intensely blue flowers on thin stems.
The Striped or Lebanon Squill (Puschkinia) is a striking bulb with clusters of bluish-white flowers that hug its stems. Thin stripes of bright blue divide each petal.
The Checkered Lily (Fritillaria meleagris) has extravagantly checkered flowers in bronze, rose or white. This bulb is also known as the Snake’s Head Lily, for its slender, twisted stems rising about narrow leaves, like snakes dancing to a charmer’s tune. When the solitary flowers appear, the stems straighten out, and the flowers nod above like large bells, with their distinctive checkered pattern resembling that of snake skin.
The earliest bloomers are Snow drops (Galanthus), white flowers nodding above grassy clumps of leaves; Snowflakes (Leucojum), small, delicately-scented, white bells nodding flowers with petal tips spotted bright green; Glory-of-the-Snow (Chionodoxa), stalks of tiny flower clusters in pink, solid white or white-eyed blue; and Winter Aconite (Eranthis), usually the earliest of all, with yellow buttercup-like flowers that pave the garden in sunshine almost overnight.
Plant your bulbs now (September), to allow them time to grow roots before winter’s cold sets in. In a warm year, bulbs can successfully be planted until fairly late fall, but the later that you leave it, the more chance you are taking with the weather. Be sure to water well when planting late.
Bulbs tend to look most natural and produce a more spectacular splash of colour in odd numbered groups of five to ten or more, and in clumps or drifts rather than straight lines.
As a rule of thumb, plant bulbs three times the depth of their height, and twice their diameter apart. For example, bulbs which are two inches (5 cm (high and one inch (2.5 cm) across, should be planted six inches (15 cm) deep, measured from the base of the bulb, with two inches (5 cm) between each bulb. The pointed end must be up or they will not grow.
Mix in 1 tsp of Earth Alive Soil Activator and 1 tbsp of Bone Meal into each planting hole when setting in the bulbs to help roots become established more quickly.
In late spring, allow foliage to wither and die back, as that is when the bulbs are storing the energy that they need in order to bloom the following season. Give them an added boost with a shot of water-soluble fertilizer with a high middle number, such as 10-52-10. Use other plants such as daylilies or irises to hide the withering leaves.