By Shannon McCabe, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds/rareseeds.com
Photographs courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
From formal flowerbeds to carefree cottage garden and wildflower fields, adding spring-flowering bulbs to your design can take your landscape to greater heights.
When to purchase and plan: Determining whether your tulips will bloom early, mid or late season will help you to plan your bloom times in harmony with the opening of other plants. Figuring out what height the plants will reach at maturity will help you to decide whether to plant your bulbs in the background or the foreground of bed designs.
Designing: The first step in designing is to compile data on the varieties that you will be designing with. Keep a list of each variety, detailing the color, height and bloom time. With this data you can organize plantings by elements such as color or form. For example, planting a mass of pink to create a blanket of color, or accenting your design with small dabbles of the eye-catching parrot tulip. You can sketch out your design on paper first, indicating color and height. On planting day you can arrange the bulbs in the design you are planning before setting them in the ground.
Mass planting: A mass planting makes a bold statement, smothering a landscape in blankets of color. Plant tulips in clusters of 15-50 or even more! At the Keukenhof Garden in Holland is a "river" of muscari grape hyacinth that is a real traffic-stopper.
Lasagna planting: Bulbs are planted together in a bed almost on top of one another at varying depths in lasagna layers making for beds with long seasons of blooms. This can be done in pots or in the ground. Plant the later-flowering varieties along with larger sized bulbs such as alliums and late season tulips on the very bottom layer. Next place mid-season hyacinths, tulips and daffodils in the middle layer, and the earliest-flowering varieties (with the smallest bulb size) like crocus at the top. This technique can be tailored to your liking and is very versatile.
The Top Three Fall-Planted Bulbs:
Tulip: Tulips are hardy from zones 3-8, they prefer sandy soil, and full sun to light shade (with afternoon sun). Avoid planting them in areas with standing water or soggy soil, as they need a well-drained, rich soil to thrive. Tulips have a wide range of bloom times. While there are some varieties that are longer-lived, most gardeners will find that their tulips need to be replanted each year.
Tulips can range in height from diminutive dwarf varieties to towering types reaching 20-30 inches tall. It is essential to keep in mind the height of the variety that you are planting, as this will determine where to place them in the design. Most varieties just produce a single stem per bloom so they are best planted in clusters of 10 or more. Plant tulips late in the season, ideally November, when the cooler fall temps can help to protect against fungal pathogens and hungry squirrels. Plant tulips 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches apart.
Hyacinth: Hardy in zones 3-8, hyacinths also prefer rich, well-drained, sandy soil and full sun. Each bulb produces a single stem and bloom. Plant in clusters of 10 or more – they look best planted en masse! Beware that hyacinth bulbs contain oxalic acid and can potentially cause a minor rash on your hands, so be sure to wear gloves. Plant bulbs 4 inches deep and 3 inches apart.
Daffodil: Hardy in most regions of America except the southernmost part of Florida. Daffodils are easy to grow; they prefer rich, sandy soil and full sun to part shade but are considered more adaptable and tolerant than other bulbs. Each bulb will produce a tuft of foliage and many stems with blooms, plant a few together for a nice effect. Daffodils should be planted 6 inches deep and 3-6 inches apart.
Fall is the time to start dreaming, designing and digging for the most splendid spring bulb garden! Be sure to check out the rareseeds.com website for our complete list of flowering spring bulbs!
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