Sprucing Up a Garden with Small Bulbs

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Sprucing Up a Garden with Small Bulbs

Fall is the ideal time to plan and plant bulbs for spring.

While trumpet daffodils and giant hybrid tulips are classic favorites (I personally think one can never have too many daffodils), there are a host of small spring bulbs that are perfect for tucking into the rock garden, woodland, perennial border, under shrubs, in containers or combining with other bulbs. This year I am planning to plant groups of small bulbs in my side yard, with the hope that they will naturalize over time.

Beyond their beautiful and fragrant flowers, numerous hardy bulbs are easy to grow and persist in the garden for years. Although many will tolerate less than ideal conditions, you will get the best results when you plant your bulbs in a location that receives full sun (eight hours or more) in a soil that is amended with compost or organic materials and ample moisture. A rule of thumb for how deep a hole you should dig is to plant bulbs at 3x the height of the individual bulb.

For gardeners with pest problems like deer and bunnies, there are numerous types that are “critter resistant” including Narcissus (daffodils of all types), Muscari (grape hyacinth) Zone 4 to 9, and Ipheion uniflorum, also known as the Star Flower. Blooming early to late spring, Star Flower is easy to grow and spreads freely by seed. In flower, this heirloom, which dates to 1832, reaches 2 to 3 inches in height, offering flowers that vary in color from almost white to soft violet.

Ipheion uniflorum 'Rolf Fiedler

Several years ago I added Ipheion uniflorum ‘Rolf Fiedler’ (Zone 5 to 9) to my garden and look forward to it spreading and prospering. The star shaped deep blue fragrant flowers are charming, but the grass-like foliage smells like garlic if you crush it. Maybe this helps keep pests away. Growing 3 to 6 inches tall, ‘Rolf Fiedler’ is perfect for the edge of the border or for combining with other bulbs like the tulip ‘Lady Jane’ which grows 8 to 10 inches tall. When it’s closed, this small tulip looks like a candy stripe, rose-red with a white edge but when fully open, it reveals a pure white interior. Another combination that I like is ‘Rolf Fiedler’ with Narcissus ‘Minnow.’ With tiny sweetly scented flowers, this daffodil only grows 5 to 6 inches tall.

Tulipa 'Lady Jane' and Ipheion uniflorum 'Rolf Feidler'

One of the most shade tolerant small bulbs is Scilla siberica. Aptly named Spring Beauty, the blooms appear in early spring. Depending on the selection, it ranges in size from 3 to 8 inches tall. I favor the deep blue species, hardy from Zone 4 to 8. Blooming in mid-spring, Puschkinia scilloides, Puschkinia, is a good choice for the rock garden or edge of the flower border. Hardy from Zone 4 to 8, it makes a good companion for early daffodils and Galanthus species, commonly known as Snowdrops.

Scilla siberica  end of March

Snowdrops have long been one of my favorite early spring bulbs. Sometimes they flower in January when there is snow on the ground. I think the best way to acquire these gems is from a friend with an established clump. Unlike other spring bloomers, you can transplant these when they are in bloom or have just finished. Just make sure to keep the tiny bulbs watered so that they don’t dry out. If I could only grow two types of bulbs I would choose daffodils and snowdrops but fortunately I don’t have to make that choice.

Galanthus nivalis Dec. 8 2011 on Oakdale

Plan now to add some blooms for next spring that will reward you for years to come.