It is time to think about next spring!!! The first of September is a good time to go looking for bulbs in your favorite garden center. If you ordered bulbs from a catalog be prepared because some of the bulbs must be planted early.  Others won’t even come until later. People usually think of tulips when bulbs are mentioned. They are gorgeous the first year but then they gradually decline.  Lately some growers have been advertising “perennial tulips” that will last a little longer.  There are a few rules you have to follow if you want to make them all live longer:

1.     Full sun.

2.     Don’t cut off the foliage before it turns brown.

3.     Don’t plant too early as the soil will be too warm and they may break dormancy and then not survive winter.

4.     Plant deep.


          To have tulips in the warm south or if you are going to force tulips for blooming around Thanksgiving or Christmas, the bulbs must be chilled in a refrigerator (35-40 degrees F) for 8 to 10 weeks (not the freezer). Then there are the wild or species tulips, usually shorter and smaller blooms. These are not as easy to find as they are not as popular.  I have had several beds for 7 to 10 years that bloom every year.

          Jonquils, Narcissus, and Daffodils will last for years if planted in full sun and their roots are not in a wet area.  Most people use these three terms interchangeably.  They come in many sizes and heights.  One of the questions I frequently get is “My jonquils haven’t bloomed this year. What happened?” If they do well in their spot, they will grow into a larger and larger clump until the bulbs become so crowded they cannot manufacture enough food to make blooms any more.  Wait until the foliage fades and then dig while you can find them.  You can plant them again immediately or you can let them dry and plant in the fall.  I prefer having their new home ready and plant at once.  There are any number of color combinations for you to choose from.  One of my favorites are the mini’s such as “Tête-à-Tête” which is only about 6 inches high so that I can tuck 6 to 12 bulbs in a tiny space in front of a rock or near the edge of a path.

          There are many fall planted bulbs to make spring and summer more exciting plus there are fall blooming ones that have to be planted at once or they will bloom in their sack. These are the autumn crocus (Colchicum) in white, pink, and violet. They may be shipped to you as early as August, bloom and then disappear to have the foliage come up in the spring.  What a surprise to find a huge CROCUS blooming in August. For this reason I plant my bulbs near the edge of a path so I won’t miss them!!!       

          There are a number of bulbs not so common but that are gorgeous and some are pricey. One of my favorites is the FOX TAIL LILY (Eremurus sp) also called the DESERT CANDLE. They grow tall and slender but don’t flop easily.  Some are not hardy in zone 5 and if they are it is safer to pile compost on top after the first hard freeze. Some are said to reach 7 feet but my tallest ones have been about 5 feet. After blooming they die back.  The roots which you receive are a tangled mass that break apart easily.  The top half of the bloom stems are covered with bright yellow, pink, orange, or white blooms of very bright colors.  Sadly, I have never had them live over 3 years. As a native of Afghanistan they don’t seem to like Nebraska.

          The first bulb to bloom for me in spring is usually the SNOWDROP (Galanthus sp). Only 4-10 inches high with 2-3 inch flower spikes of dainty, bell shaped white flowers with a little green that disappears quite easily after blooming.  Nearly every year they are snowed on but they stand up again at once.  A signal that winter will soon be over.

            There are a number of DWARF IRIS, only 4-6 inches tall with velvet petals.  Some have spots and some with darker veins. Some are hardy to zone 3 that bloom long before the bearded ones.  These are called BULBOUS IRIS while the large IRIS are rhizomatous. Bulbous will die back after blooming so they can be divided while you can still find them and replant immediately in a drier area to prevent rotting.  The little IRIS are referred to as “non-bearded”.

          GRAPE HYACINTHS (Muscari sp) are very small, innocent looking bulbs that grow up to about 6 inch purplish blue spikes.  I say innocent because several years ago I planted about 25 in high shade.  The last few years they have multiplied many times and have completely filled a large area.  Last fall I dug them all up as they were even taking my path!!! Guess what? This spring the patch was bigger and thicker and bluer than ever!!! They die down after blooming but come again in August and September. Now when I want to plant something in there I dig the proper size hole, throw the dirt in the wheelbarrow, sort out the bulbs to make room for the new plant, then replace the soil.

          Pricey, impressive, 2 to 3 foot tall bulbs that rot easy are the FRITILLARIA IMPERALIS. Sellers recommend putting sand in each hole for drainage.  Another suggested planting on its side. The bulbs are big. There are red and yellow ones which are very brightly colored. At the top of the stem is a leafy bract pointing up.  Just under are the bell like blooms about 2 ½ inches long in a circle around the stem.  I have never had them live over 2 years.  I need a sloping area that doesn’t get watered after they die back. They are so gorgeous and different it is worth a try!!!

          CAMASSIA also called QUAMASH are native to the United States and were eaten by some Indian Tribes as well as the Lewis and Clark expedition.  They like moisture but not wet feet.  The only ones I have seen have been in different shades of blue.  The flower stems come up leafless to 24 inches and have been called WILD HYACINTHS as there are a number of star shaped blossoms the length of the stem.  They too disappear in summer so you need some kind of a marking system.

Copyright 2008