Whether your garden is so chock full of plants you don’t know where you’d shoehorn in another, or so bereft of vegetation that you’re ashamed to look the neighbors in the eye, there is a common cure: flower bulbs. Bulbs, especially the hardy spring-flowering varieties such as tulips, daffodils, crocuses and hyacinths that are planted in the fall, are uniquely suited to ride to the rescue in a variety of gardening scenarios. You might say that there’s always room for bulbs.
Hardy flower bulbs are an entire category of garden plants unto themselves. “There’s really nothing else like them,” says Sally Ferguson, director of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center in Danby, Vt., www.bulb.com. “They’re little brown blobs that look like seeds on steroids, yet they grow into incredible colorful flowers that make you gasp at a time of the year when you need gasp-worthy flowers the most.”
Flower bulbs are so easy to grow successfully that they make perfect plants for children’s projects, yet so varied and sophisticated that they delight even the most expert gardeners. Early spring bulbs are particularly good choices as underplantings for larger deciduous plants (those that drop their leaves over winter). In spring, bulbs will have plenty of sun, before the leaves of deciduous shrubs and trees reappear. Bulbs can complement the emerging foliage of perennials. Later, the maturing perennials can mask the dying foliage of the bulb flowers after they bloom.
Bulbs for Gardens Lush or Lacking
For those frustrated by gardens already too full and research from the National Gardening Association says this is a common complaint among many who identify themselves as good gardeners flower bulbs are delectable treats to tuck easily amongst established shrubs and perennials.
For gardeners whose beds are bare, bulbs offer a variety of choices. Bulbs planted in fall include both spring-flowering types such as daffodils and tulips, plus summer-flowering classics including alliums and lilies. For fall bloom, there are fall-planted colchicums and autumn crocus. Thus, a weekend’s worth of fall planting can offer color for three seasons in the garden, especially if you add some perennials to the mix.
Spring-flowering bulbs are planted in the fall because most need a period of cold conditioning to activate the biochemical process that induces them to flower. In general they are best planted when soil temperatures have started to cool, and, optimally, at least six weeks before the first hard, ground-freezing frosts. This translates to anywhere from early October in colder climates to November and even December in more temperate climates.
For garden design purposes, hardy bulbs fall roughly into three categories: annual bulbs, those bulbs planted with only one season’s bloom in mind; perennial bulbs, bulbs expected to return in the garden for at least three years; and naturalizing bulbs, bulbs that will not only return but also multiply in the garden.
Many tulips fall into the annual category, yet there are some that will perennialize and even a few that will naturalize. In general many of the big, showy tulips fall into the annual category. For a list of bulbs that perennialize and naturalize, visit the Bulbs & Gardening section of www.bulb.com. Bulb packages and catalogs also identify which bulbs are likely to perennialize or naturalize, along with timing, color, flower height and other information necessary to successful planting.
Whether a garden bed is bursting at the seams or rather bare, there’s always room for bulbs. Flower bulbs are widely available in fall from garden centers, home centers, grocery stores and via catalogs and the Internet.
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By Ron Harrison, Ph.D., Entomologist and Orkin Technical Services Director
Photographs courtesy of Orkin
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