Montgomery: Think ahead to spring bulbs
Spring-flowering bulbs offer an array of color in late winter and early spring that is much needed after a long dreary winter. When most people think of spring-flowering bulbs, tulips and daffodils come to mind. However, there are some other bulbs that you need to consider that will brighten up the garden and add an extra special touch to any spot. Crocus, snowdrops, hyacinth, trout lilies, snowflakes, Muscari, lily of the valley are a few that come to mind, which I enjoy watching as they unfurl, showing off their beautiful flowers.
Gardening is often an exercise of delayed gratification, and this is certainly true with spring-flowering bulbs. You plant them in the fall and you have to wait until spring to see the results of your hard work. One thing that is great about these bulbs is they return year after year. Plus many bulbs are deer-resistant which is becoming a necessity in certain neighborhoods.
These bulbs are generally planted when the soil is below 60 degrees F in the fall. I have found where I live I can plant as late as November and early December and still get a great display in the spring.
One of the earliest bulbs to break ground in my garden are snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis). They are quite graceful looking and resemble little white bells dancing on a stem. Being so dainty and attractive, and coming as early as they do makes them one of my favorites. They grow well in partial shade with moist to semi-dry soil with plenty of organic matter. Because of their small size, they show up best planted in a mass.
I have one group of snowdrops that always blooms around the first of November but most of them flower just after Christmas. They do better in cooler climates but I have found if you locate them properly in your garden that will contribute to their success.
Crocus is an old favorite for many. These dainty short flowers come in a wonderful assortment of colorsfrom purple, white, yellow and striped variations, growing about 4 to 6 inches high. I have had some bloom when snow is on the ground, making a pretty picture.
Crocuses prefer well-drained soil and will grow in partial shade or full sun. They are perfect for garden borders and even look great when planted in a lawn. After I plant my crocus bulbs, I put a piece of hardware cloth wire, something smaller than chicken wire, on the top and then cover with soil. This prevents squirrels from digging them up.
Creating a display of Muscari is my latest project. These lovely little flowers are often called grape hyacinth because they resemble grapes on a stem and are similar to hyacinths.
Last year, I planted several thousand Muscari bulbs in a long wide area, trying to have the Muscari flowers resemble a stream of water. I had seen this design planted in his way when visiting Keukenhof garden in Holland. I have been thinking about it for years and I finally took on the project.
Hyacinths bloom around the same time as daffodils and tulips, and have a wonderful fragrance! Small clusters of tiny bell-shaped blooms decorate a stout stem. Hyacinths come in charming shades of blue, pink, baby blue, yellow and white. Flower size may decline in subsequent years, and I really like them better this way because they are daintier.
Ornamental alliums are the rage now. They make a dramatic statement in the garden, especially the varieties with large global heads. These purple pom-pom flowers look quite dramatic when planted en masse. Another interesting fact is they are from the onion family so they are generally deer- and rodent-resistant. Depending on the variety will determine exactly when they will bloom in the spring.
An annual application of compost should provide adequate nutrients. Most spring-flowering bulbs prefer to have the soil moist when they are growing, but want reduced watering as the bulb foliage begins to die back. Be sure to let the foliage die naturally before removing, so that the bulbs can fill their storehouses for blooms the following year. The foliage acts like solar panels, taking in all the sun it needs to develop a lovely flower for the next year.
Betty Montgomery is a master gardener and author of "Hydrangeas: How To Grow, Cultivate & Enjoy," and "A Four-Season Southern Garden." She can be reached at email@example.com