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GardenSMART :: Tiny Heralds of Spring

Tiny Heralds of Spring

By Therese Ciesinski, In The Dirt Editor

Their timing is perfect: Reaching up through the soil and even snow when gardeners have had it up to here with winter. The tallest doesn’t even hit the 12-inch mark. They look too small, too fragile, too cute, to survive, but that’s deceptive.

“They” are the smallest of the spring-flowering bulbs, and if you live where winters can be cold, dull, and long, the sight of them is balm for the soul. Snowdrops, crocus, and glory of the snow are tough, easy-to-grow bulbs, “plant ‘em and forget ‘em” types. Not only do they come up dependably year after year, when conditions are right they will spread without you needing to do a thing.

These bulbs are all planted in fall, in fertile soil with good drainage; most bulbs generally don’t like to sit in water over winter. They should be sited where the leaves and flowers can get full or part sun. Follow the planting instructions on the label as to how deep to plant bulbs and how far to space them apart. All are breathtaking planted en masse in a lawn. Just be sure to plant them close to windows or walkways so you can see them.

Here, an appreciation of these mini marvels:

Crocus (Crocus)

One of the most recognizable and beloved of the spring bulbs, crocus bloom just about anywhere winter temperatures get cold enough to chill the bulbs. Members of the iris family, they flower in shades of purple, icy white, yellow, and stripes. Technically crocus are corms, not bulbs, and while deer seem to take a pass on the aboveground leaves and flowers, squirrels and mice find the corms mighty tasty. The name Crocus comes from ancient Greek, krokos, which means saffron. Saffron does indeed come from crocus, but the fall-blooming C. sativus, not the spring bloomers.

Glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa)

Some of the most pure, heavenly blues found in nature are in the petals of this star-shaped flower, but there are also violet, pink, and white cultivars. Chionodoxa are in the asparagus family, and are cousins of squill (Scilla). They are alpine plants, native to the higher elevations of Turkey and other eastern Mediterranean countries. Topping out at about eight inches high, they are tolerant of black walnut and resistant to deer. 

Snowdrops (Galanthus)

The earliest risers of them all, generally before the vernal equinox in March. Delicate snowdrops earn their name, as their pure white flowers and fresh green leaves and stems often appear while snow is still on the ground. The 20 or so species come from the Amaryllis family, and the best-known, G. nivalis, is native throughtout Europe. True cold-weather lovers, they won’t grow in the warmer parts of the U.S. Wildlife seem to dislike them, including rabbits, mice, deer, and chipmunks. They go dormant by late spring and by early summer have pretty much disappeared.

Therese Ciesinski is GardenSMART’s In The Dirt editor.


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