Follow us

Plant Ahead

With summer long gone and winter on the way, now is a good time to plan for some early flowers in your landscape next spring. It’s also time to plant bulbs that will wake up your spring landscape year after year. Daffodils and narcissus are classics, and there are many varieties of them besides the classic bright yellow ones. You can find them in shades of pale yellow, apricot, creamy white and rich red-orange, with petals that are narrow or wide, a central cup that’s small or large. They come in different heights, too, from miniatures just a few inches high to taller ones reaching a foot and a half. Tulips are another beloved spring bulb, though if you have deer on the premises, the flowers will be devoured before they bloom. If there are voles underground, the bulbs will be eaten before they can send out flowers or leaves. Buy bunches of tulips from the florist instead.

Beyond these two perennial favorites, the world of bulbs is large, so why not expand your early spring color palette and try some new ones? Here are some less common—and enchanting—bulbs to plant now for flowers next spring when you really need to see some color as winter loosens its grip.

If you crave the very earliest flowers, look for species crocuses (more commonly grown are Dutch hybrid crocuses, which have somewhat larger flowers but bloom later). The petite species crocuses can be golden yellow, white or purple, and pop up in March, even poking up through snow.

The charming little flowers of Siberian squill are just a few inches high, but they inject shots of brilliant blue into early spring gardens. They’re easy to grow and will self-sow and spread themselves around a bit, but they’re never a problem. If you like a little serendipity in your garden, plant some of these – they’re delightful with small early daffodils such as February Gold, Jack Snipe or Little Gem. They’ll thrive in sun or light shade, in any average soil. Deer have never bothered them in my garden.

Many gardeners are familiar with the grape hyacinths in the genus Muscari, with their cone-shaped clusters of tiny, tightly packed bells of blue-violet. They come in light blue and white, too. The beguiling feather hyacinth (Muscari comosum ‘Plumosum’) has its bells split wide open, making the flower resemble a tiny ostrich feather on a stem. Give it a sunny to partly shady spot and moist but well-drained soil.

These three kinds of bulbs are small and take forever to plant one at a time. An easier way to get the job done is to excavate patches of the garden a few inches deep where you want to plant them and scatter a handful of bulbs in each spot, then cover them up.

If you’d like to add drama to the early summer display in your garden, ornamental onions, or alliums, can fill the bill. These relatives of the onions we eat send up big, round heads of tiny flowers, in shades of pink, rich purple or white. Deer won’t touch them – a big plus for many of us. Globemaster and Gladiator are two popular varieties, each with globe-shaped heads of purple florets. In the more delicate-looking Persian allium (Allium christophii) the florets are on longer, thinner stems that give them an airy appearance – each flower looks like a ball of stars.

For a late season surprise, let magic lily cast its spell in your landscape. Not a true lily, this plant is related to amaryllis, the popular Christmas gift plant that comes as a potted bulb from which grows a tall stem topped with a cluster of big lily-like flowers.  Unlike amaryllis, magic lily is hardy in outdoor gardens here. The bulbs send out a clump of strap-shaped leaves in spring. They die back in summer and the plant disappears. Then in late summer, like magic, clusters of lovely, fragrant, pale rosy pink trumpet flowers bloom atop 2 to 3-foot stalks.

You can plant these bulbs until the soil starts to freeze, so spend a little time now and reward yourself next spring with some early color when it seems like warm weather will never come again.