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Spring Flowering Bulbs - Planning Blooms
by Don Janssen, UNL Extension Educator
Choose your spring-flowering bulbs with an eye toward their period of bloom, and you can have flowers in your garden from early spring to early summer.
Some of the earliest flowering spring bulbs are so early that they may be in flower while there's still snow on the ground. And the latest may persist until late May.
Planting formal bulb beds with the shortest plants in the front and the tallest in the back will tend to give you a front-to-back progression of bloom.
Among the earliest bulbs to flower are snowdrops (Galanthus), winter aconite (Eranthis) and glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa).
Planted in full sun to light shade in a cool, moist but well drained soil, snowdrops will spread rapidly. Plant them 4 inches deep and 2 to 3 inches apart, fertilize with bone meal in the spring after flowering, and mulch for winter protection. Their white, bell-like flowers will be among the earliest to appear in the spring. Plants reach about 6 inches in height.
Winter aconite is another early bloomer that multiplies rapidly if left alone. Plant 2 inches deep and 2 to 3 inches apart in well drained soil. The flowers, which may appear while there's still snow on the ground, are yellow.
Glory-of-the-snow produces sky-blue flowers. Grown in sun or partial shade, the bulbs multiply rapidly. Plant 3 inches apart and 3 inches deep. Plants reach 6 inches in height. Any well drained garden soil is adequate. Another early bloomer in the garden is the crocus. In shades of lavender, mauve, violet, purple, blue, yellow, gold and white, in solid colors and pinstripes, the delicate blooms stand only a few inches high above grasslike foliage. A sunny, well drained location is required. Plant in early fall 2 to 3 inches apart and 4 inches deep.
As these earliest of early birds start to fade, the early blooming tulips (Kaufmanniana and Fosteriana), grape hyacinths, daffodils and hyacinths step into the limelight. They're followed closely by the Triumph, Darwin hybrid, single early and double early tulips.
Grape hyacinths (Muscari) get their name from the similarity between their clusters of flowers and clusters of grapes. White-flowered varieties are available in addition to the better known blue ones. They grow to 4 to 8 inches in height. The site should be well drained and exposed to full sun or partial shade. After planting and again after blooming, they benefit from an application of bone meal. Plant 4 inches deep and 3 inches apart in groups.
Plant early to late tulips 6 to 8 inches deep and 6 inches apart in groups of at least 12 bulbs for maximum visual effect. Large splashes of one color are more dramatic than a mixture of colors or types.
Daffodils come in colors ranging from the classic yellow to white, orange and even pink. The distinctive daffodil trumpet may be a shallow cup or a ruffled bell as deep as the flower is wide, and it may be the same color as the petals or a contrasting one. Like tulips, daffodils do best in a well drained, partially shaded to sunny spot. Plant them 4 to 8 inches deep and 6 inches apart.
Hyacinths, renowned for their fragrance, produce flower spikes loaded with waxy-looking florets in shades of blue, pink and yellow, and white. Because they reach a height of only 10 inches or so, they combine nicely with the taller daffodils and tulips. They grow best in well drained soil and partial shade. They look best not in stiff rows and stark geometric patterns, but more informally nestled among evergreens or in casual-looking clumps with other bulbs.
The tallest of the spring-flowering bulbs are Allium giganteum and Fritillaria imperialis.
Alliums are members of the onion family. The giant allium bears at the top of a tall stalk a globe-shaped flower made up of hundreds of florets that radiate from a central core. The primary colors are lilac and purple. Like most bulbs, alliums do best in full to partial sun and well drained soil.
Allium giganteum multiplies rapidly and reaches 4 to 5 feet tall. The plant may be used as a cut flower. Plant bulbs in fall or early spring, 8 inches deep for the larger types, and 8 to 12 inches apart.
The crown imperial likewise bears its flowers at the top of a tall stalk. The drooping, bell-shaped blooms, in shades of red, orange and yellow, circle the stem, crowned by a tuft of green leaves. Plant 6 inches deep and 8 to 12 inches apart in a well drained spot where they'll receive full to partial sun. At planting, tip the bulb slightly to one side to keep water from collecting in the depression at the top of the bulb. A winter mulch is recommended. Once the plants are established, avoid disturbing them.
The small, early blooming bulbs -- crocus, snowdrop, winter aconite, etc. -- can be naturalized. That is, they can be planted in lawn areas rather than organized beds. Do not try this with the larger later flowering bulbs, however. The foliage must be left on these bulbs to photosynthesize and build up the bulbs for next year's blooms. That would mean leaving those lawn areas unmowed until the bulb foliage turned brown -- perhaps June or even early July.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office
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