Thursday, October 11, 2007

What Kind of Bulbs to Plant?

From now until about the end of November is prime time to plant bulbs for spring color. I love planting bulbs and have probably planted about 5000 bulbs here at my home. The picture is just a small sampling of some. I thought now might be an opportune time to share some ideas and tips for bulb planting that I have learned in my garden as just yesterday I planted 100 more! I finally did get those Red Hot Pokers moved and my center garden extended. Extending this garden provided me a perfect spot for 100 Allium sphaerocephalon, aka Drumstick Alliums. These bulbs are ideal. I have grown them for a few years now and they have never failed to satisfy me. The bulbs need full sun in well drained soil and will grow straight up to about 24-30 inches. At the end of the stem is a purple-pink group of small flowers that are tightly bunched. So tightly bunched together that the flower looks like a drumstick, hence the name.
My favorite bulbs by far are known collectively as Grape Hyacinths. These bulbs are small and inexpensive. They are quite commonly found and easy to plant. This time of the year the bulbs put up green leaves in preparation for their spring bloom. My daughter called me in a panic one year, "My grape hyacinths are growing and it is only October!" I told her not to worry that this was normal. She has had an awesome display of hyacinths at her home in Kentucky and is an excellent gardener who has taught me a few things. Voles and mice are not attracted to these bulbs. Springtime brings a multitude of usually blue blooms that look like clusters of grapes, hence the name. After the bloom fades the dried flower leaves an interesting silhouette and persists for some time. Grape Hyacinths look super with the yellows and whites of Daffodils. I found a cool type last year that is called Muscari armeniacum 'Blue Spike'. It is a larger type and the blue 'grapes' are shredded. It makes quite a statement in my garden. I always like to try the new and unusual and if you do too, then look for this variety.

Daffodils, botanically known as Narcissus are a delightful flowering bulb for growing here. Most people around here call them Buttercups. Voles and mice do not bother these bulbs and they are very easy to grow. Daffodils come in a multitude of colors and types. Some of the common types are: large cupped like 'Ice Follies', doubles such as 'Cheerfulness', and minatures such as 'Tete a Tete' to name just a few. I love these bulbs and have many as you can see in the background of the above picture. Tete a Tete and Ice Follies are my favorites. I like Tete a Tete because it is small, spreads easily and makes a bright sunny appearance en masse. Ice Follies are just a little different from the standard yellow daffodils as they have white outer petals.
Probably the most famous spring bulb of all are tulips. I have a love/hate relationship with tulips. Two years ago I went to the library and specifically researched tulips. I wanted to know which type would perennialize best, as tulips are notorious for not lasting long in gardens. I have been to the famous gardens Keukenhof in Amsterdam Holland and knew I just HAD to have tulips, but did not want to have to buy and plant them each year. My research said Darwin Hybrid tulips and the Apledoorn type tulips would perennialize best. I dutifully ordered and planted several hundred of these tulips, including the ones you see in the picture. The first year (last year) they all came up and bloomed beautifully, but this year all but about 40 were a no show. I was disappointed and was beginning to think my friend Nancy, who orders and plants beautiful tulip bulbs each year was right when she said, "It just isn't worth trying to keep the bulbs as they don't come back reliably." Not to be defeated though, I perused all of the bulb catalogs and did some more research. I theorized the 'species' type tulips would be better at returning each year than the hybrids. So, this is what I ordered and will plant this year. I will let you know the results in two years and that will come before you know it!
As a caveat to tulips, some of the bulbs I planted back in 2002 which had never bloomed, bloomed in 2006! They bloomed in a big way but did not come back this year. While digging in the garden I recently ran into some of my tulip bulbs. The bulbs were all intact but small. I replanted them and hope they will suprise me in a future year. I also plant my tulip bulbs in a chicken wire cage because the chipmunks, voles and moles love to eat tulips.

When planting bulbs plan for staggered bloom times. Most bulb packages will say early, mid or late spring for bloom times. Try to grab some of each. Also, bulbs work best when massed and planted in groups. Try not to line them up like little soldiers marching past. You will like the result better. I like groups of 10 or more situated close together. The alliums I planted yesterday are intermingled among mums, sedums and the red hots. All 100 are in one bed in a random pattern.
Another Allium I planted this fall is Allium 'Globemaster'. This allium forms a huge purple sphere almost three feet above the ground. The stems are bare so it is best to plant this allium and most alliums amongst perennials which can give the stems some interest at their bases. I have planted 27 of these in two groups in the front. 18 are in my foundation planting and another nine in a kidney bean shaped garden just on the other side of the sidewalk close to the foundation bed. These alliums last really long in the garden and I just couldn't take my eyes off from mine in the backyard this spring. Not sure if they will come back reliably because this is the only the first year I have grown them but I am confident they will. I had tried the Allium 'Gladiator' and found that particular variety to be disappointing so I am sticking with 'Globemaster'. Not all of the 'Gladiator' bulbs I planted bloomed and they did not come back after the first year. It might because they didn't get enough sun. Not sure of the problem.
Behind the tulips in the above picture are Nandina domestica 'FirePower', and behind the nandina are Euonymous microphyla. These two shrubs along with the 'Emerald Green' arborvitae form the backbone of this side of my foundation planting. I usually plant seasonal plants where the tulips are but have just this month changed this garden over to perennials with a small space for annuals and the lantana I will be growing here next year. Initially when I moved in six years ago the foundation plantings consisted of the usual overgrown boxwood. Those boxwoods came out and found a new home in the back where they can grow without the pain of my having to prune them regularly. I do NOT like to shear shrubs and try to reduce my maintanance by purchasing and planting shrubs that will not have to be sheared regularly. These two shrubs will not grow larger than 3 feet and only require the occasional hand pruning which I LOVE to do. The euonymus look like tiny boxwood and the nandina has year round interest because the color changes regularly. In fall, winter and spring the foliage is red, then when new growth comes in it is a chartreuse slowly darkening as the summer wears on. The voles ate a good portion of the roots of these nandinas last spring but I managed to save them and hope I don't have this problem again this spring.
in the garden....


  1. Three years ago I planted buttercups and tulips in the planter by the mailbox. They came up the following spring and were beautiful! I enjoyed them and could hardly wait for their return the following year. To my disappointment, only a few popped up and some never bloomed. I am sure my neighbor was laughing at me because he tried to tell me I would not have luck with them in our area. Our winters are short and not so cold here in GA so I would have to dig them out each year and store them in the fridge then replant. I have too much to do so don’t take on that task. There is always hope to see what may return next spring though!

    The Saint and I planted 12 Gladiolas last year and they came up so beautifully. Then this year, only 3 gave us blooms. I am not sure what the deal is with bulbs but we don’t seem to have any luck with them in this area. I am guessing the mild winters.

    Tina I am so glad you were able to see the Keukenhof tulips! We were not so lucky. The Saint had given me a trip to Keukenhof as my birthday gift the last year we were living in Germany. Unfortunately we transferred to GA before I could cash in on the trip! I had been after him for years to take me there and he finally gave in. He hates crowds and everyone that had gone said to be prepared for the huge crowds of people. He was finally ready and then we moved. I wonder if he knew he was being transferred before he gave me the gift so as to get brownie points! Hummmm come to think of it, I never got another gift for that missed one… That was 7 years ago, I wonder if I can use that one to get to Disney World next spring… LOL

    I must give the Saint some credit though. This past week I sent him to the grocery for milk. Not only did he come home with milk but also a “Prize” for me. He had a small box which contained 12 Drumstick Allium! What a man! I had never heard of them before but am excited to try them and especially now since you talked about them today! So much irony goes on with these talks don’t ya think….

  2. Tina, I just posted my story of Moles and Voles on the Pet People Blog. I think you will find it humerous... How do you deal with moles and voles???

  3. I checked it out and loved it. I will go back and check it now for conversations.

  4. I just don’t have it in my heart to kill a mammal of any kind. Even the destructive ones to my flowers and plants. My mother in law never had it in her to kill one either until they ate the roots to her Dogwood tree that was given to her for a birthday gift at an expensive cost! The tree died and mom was now on the War Path! She has “taken out” many but they always come back and get more roots. Funny how she has a hard time digging in the VA Red Clay but those little buggars can dig a hole in no time at all...