Spring bulb bloomers are among the first of those dependable perennial favorites to poke up from their wintery bed, to the delight of waiting gardeners who are anticipating their return. From delicate yellow trumpets to cups in shades like Easter eggs, the blooms of spring bulbs provide color and interest when much of the garden is still sleeping. Plan ahead, beginning your bulb bed in the fall before the coming growing season, and you will have an amazing gift awaiting come the spring.
Types of Blooms
Daffodils and tulips are the among the best-known and most widely planted spring bulbs. With a cup-like, trumpet form in shades of yellow, orange, cream, and salmon, daffodils have a distinct form that livens up the dull, early spring garden. Tulips, available in almost every color, also offer variations on the traditional upward cup shape including a fringed-edge, striped-petaled variety called Parrot Tulips. Other spring blooming bulbs include the early-blooming crocus, in tiny cups of lilac, yellow, white, and rose, and the hyacinth with a multitude of small, waxy, sweet-smelling blooms on a tall stalk. Scilla, or Siberian squill, provide masses of small blue blossoms amid pretty green foliage.
Types of Bulbs
"Bulb" is used to loosely define a variety of root-like forms that grow underground, nourishing the plant that grows from them and holding the information necessary to create a new bloom the following season. Spring bloomers included in this group have true bulbs and corms. True bulbs, including tulip, hyacinth, scilla, and daffodils, are semi-flat on one end and pointed at the other, with a rounded body covered in a thin, papery shell. Corm bulbs are wide and flatter than true bulbs, with a basal plate at the base from which a season's roots grow. Crocus are grown from corms.
When to Plant
Spring bulbs are best planted the fall before the next growing season. Many spring-blooming bulbs require a cooling period to properly form a flower. During winter dormancy, bulbs will send out roots and prepare for spring growth. In areas of the country where temperatures are mild and do not reach between 35 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, it is necessary to cool them in a refrigerator for up to 18 weeks before planting outdoors.
How to Plant
Prepare the bed area for bulbs by mixing up to 3 inches of organic matter, such as compost, about a foot deep into the soil. Slow-release fertilizer may also be added at this time. Up to 2 lbs. of a 10-10-10 mix over 100 square feet is adequate. These preparations will improve drainage and provide nutrients over time. Plant bulbs about three times as deep as they are tall. Allow up to 2 inches between small bulbs and 3 to 6 inches between large ones. Be sure the pointed ends of true bulbs are pointed up. Cover the bed with 3 inches of organic mulch, such as composted pine bark.
When the first shoots appear from the bulbs in spring, fertilize a second time with the slow-release 10-10-10 mix. Allow the foliage to die back naturally and become yellowed before mowing it to ground level. The foliage feeds the bulb to provide next season's flowers. In areas where bulbs are not hardy over the winter, dig them up in the fall and store in a well-ventilated container filled with peat moss, stored in a cool, dark place.