A common late-summer pastime among devoted gardeners is the scouring of Internet gardening sites and mail-order catalogs for spring bulbs. Planted in the autumn, these bulbs will produce the first green shoots that signal winter's demise and the return of color to the world. Spring bulbs range from early-blooming 4-inch-tall crocuses and grape hyacinths to May's single late tulips, up to 30 inches tall.
Native to Asia and Europe, crocuses are perennial spring bloomers--they will continue to flower year after year. More than 50 varieties of crocus are now available, says the University of California Cooperative Extension. They have single cuplike blooms in white and shades of yellow, mauve, blue and lilac. Grasslike leaves have central white stripes.
Plant the bulbs in the fall before the ground freezes. Place their pointed end up between 4 and 6 inches deep in fertile, well-drained soil. Water and fertilize them. After flowering, let the foliage die back and remove it. Crocuses spread. Too many shoots in one area mean it's time to divide the plants and space them between 4 and 6 inches apart.
Native from southern England to western Russia, checkered lily (Fritillaria meleagris) is hardy to USDA Zone 3, with a minimum annual temperature of -40 degrees F. An April bloomer, it thrives in light shade and well-drained organically rich soil. Growing plants require regular water.
Checkered lily's drooping, reddish-brown flowers, splotched with lilac, gray and white, appear as single 2- to 3-inch blooms on 15-inch-high plants. Their unusual coloring is responsible for the lily's other name, "guinea-hen flower." Plants have long, grasslike leaves.
Checkered lily colonizes easily. Plant the bulbs 3 to 4 inches apart and 3 inches deep where they will have room to spread. Allow foliage to die back completely when the plants have finished blooming in the spring.
Persian buttercup (ranunculus asiaticius), a May and June bloomer, tolerates winter temperatures down to 10 degrees F. In areas with colder winters, says the Missouri Botanical Garden, plant the bulbs in spring several weeks before the last frost. After they bloom, lift the corms when the foliage has died back, dry them and store them in a cool area. Replant the following spring, or simply replace old plants with inexpensive new ones widely available at nurseries.
Native to southern Europe and Southwestern Asia, plants flower with poppylike blooms up to 4 inches in diameter. Ranunculus is available in a wide range of colors from solid white, yellow, pink and purple to exotic bicolors. Airy silver-green foliage creates an attractive backdrop for the blooms.
Plant the bulbs claws down, 2 inches deep and 4 to 6 inches apart in a sunny, well-drained location. Persian buttercup dislikes heavy clay soil and is susceptible to root rot in extended wet conditions. Promote continued blooming by pinching off old flowers between your thumb and index finger.