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Garden Edition: October
Spring and Early Summer Flowering Bulbs

by Linda Coyner

There's no denying Nature's agenda now. Both plants and gardeners breathe a sigh of relief this time of year. A few more days or weeks to do chores before a cold blast ends the gardening season. Meanwhile, annuals valiantly stretch to reach weakening rays of sun and dahlias, at their perfection, boldly flaunt beauty. In a race against the clock, flowers and vegetables shift into survival mode, making seed and fruit for the next generation.

Despite cooler temps and the slowed pace, it's no time for a gardener to hang up the shovel and pruners yet. Like little squirrels scurrying to collect acorns, we must get our garden affairs in order. Fall chores abound, among them, planting flower bulbs.

I must admit to having little heart for planting bulbs this time of year, even when I lived in the Northeast. Three of the four traditional bulbs (crocus, tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths) rarely see the light of day thanks to voracious wildlife. Daffodils, though, are critter-proof, as are a handful of other less common bulbs, which makes them the only ones I deem worth planting. What's more, I favor the ones that naturalize.

Naturalizing daffodils

My favorite daffodil is the diminutive tête-à-tête but these little blooms must be planted in large quantities to be seen. Plan on buying at least a hundred of them.

Among full-sized daffodils, it makes the most sense to choose varieties that will go forth and prosper, what the catalogs call "naturalizing" varieties. According to the American Daffodil Society, good choices are:

Ice Follies, Tête-à-tête, Flower Record, Delibes, Unsurpassable, Barrett Browning, Scarlet Gem, Geranium, Cheerfulness, Peeping Tom, Mount Hood, Spellbinder, Carlton, and Viking.

One reliable authority's recommendation for naturalizing is King Alfred, the ubiquitous bold yellow bloom that set the standard for trumpets daffodils for a century. Another commoner, February Gold, is also often recommended as one of the best choices for a yellow trumpet daffodil. Both should be easy to find and at a low cost.

Other pest-resistant bulbs.

  • Alliums, better known as drumsticks, are typically purple fuzz balls atop slender stems. As members of the onion family, hence their pest resistance. They bloom in late spring and early summer, May-June, and thrive in full sun. Don't deadhead them. Their dried flower heads are great in indoor arrangements. Hardy in USDA Zones 5-8.

  • Anemone blanda - Also known as Grecian windflowers, these low-growing (6-inches) early bloomers with long-lasting daisy-like flowers that come in white, pink or purplish-blue. They like full sun, but can tolerate partial shade and need a well-drained spot, preferably where the soil is dry on top but moist underneath. They bloom in March-April and are hardy in USDA Zones 4-7.

  • Galanthus nivalis - Better known as the snowdrop, this is one of spring's first sentinels, flowering in February-March, almost too early, as it sometimes has to poke up and bloom right through the snow. Galanthus have 10-inch stems topped by dainty, nodding white flowers with a green spot at the apex of each petal. Clusters of galanthus can be planted in the lawn and easily be left to die back in plenty of time before the grass starts growing. It likes full sun to partial shade and is hardy in USDA Zones 4-7
    .
  • Hyacinthoides hispanica - Also known as Scilla Hispanica, Scilla campanulata, Spanish bluebell, and wood hyacinth. With tall stems (12-16 inches) to support its abundant, pendulous bell-shaped flowers, this is actually the tallest of the scilla-type flowers. The plant signals when flowers are imminent by flopping its foliage. It is available in light and dark blue, white, and pink. This easy naturalizer is a late bloomer, making its appearance in May. Plant in moist, well-drained soil high in nutrientseither full sun or partial shade will do. Hardy in USDA Zones 4-10.

  • Iris reticulata - This four-inch tall beauty has iris-like leaves and a violet-blue or purple flower that bursts into bloom in early spring. Iris reticulata likes full sun to partial shade and will naturalize readily in USDA Zones 4-8

  • Muscari armeniacum - The best-known of the grape hyacinths is also one of the Muscari family's all-star performers. Count on these long-lasting cobalt blue flowers to appear from April-May. Four to eight-inches tall, muscari performs best in well-drained locations. Sometimes its leaves pop up in fall, but this is normal for muscari and, while winter may brown the leaves, the flowers survive. Muscari naturalize easily in USDA Zones 4-8.

  • Puschkinia libanotica - This six-inch tall lovely sports clusters of white flowers. It blooms early and for long periods of time, with flowers appearing as long as February to April. At home in partial shade, it is a great choice for planting under trees and shrubs. Puschkinia will naturalize in moist, well-drained soil in USDA Zones 3-8.

  • Scilla siberica - Cobalt blue, with bell-shaped flowers three to four per stem, this six-inch tall bloomer adds a blast of brilliance to the early spring landscape. One of the best naturalizing bulbs, Scilla siberica blooms profusely in March-April. It likes full sun to partial shade and is hardy in USDA Zones 3-8.

    Buying bulbs

    Although time is running out on mail-ordering, online catalogs are worth considering for their selection of naturalizing varieties, especially their prepackaged collections. For instance, White Flower Farms (www.whiteflowerfarm.com) offers "The Works," a mixture of 100 naturalizing daffodils for USDA Zones 3-7 south and Zone 9 west. It also has "The Works, Southern Style" for gardeners as warm as USDA Zones 8 south or Zone 9 west.

    Don't overlook mass merchandisers like Home Depot and Wal-mart for bulbs. They usually have good prices on bulks bags of daffodils, especially the common varieties that are good for naturalizing like February Gold and King Alfred.

    Bulb-planting no-nos

    When planting bulbs, gardeners tend to make two big mistakes. They plant too few. For any kind of effect, you need to plant hundreds of bulbs. The most efficient way to accomplish that is by planting many bulbs close together in the same trench.

    The second major mistake is planting bulbs in rows or geometric group. Bulbs planted randomly in clusters look more natural and actually trick the eye into visually multiplying the number of flowers. The best way to do that is to broadcast bulbs by the shovel full, planting them where they land.

    On-line resources
    American Daffodil Society: www.daffodilusa.org
    Netherlands Flower Bulb Information: www.bulb.com

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