Carl Van Noort of the Van Noort Bulb Company, one of Canada’s largest bulb suppliers, confirmed what I already suspected.
“Fall bulb sales are truly phenomenal,” he said. This year, folks are spending a greater amount of time at home, and the trend of making their gardens both more edible and beautiful is continuing into the fall season.
The unique feature of fall bulbs is their long-range promise of beauty to come. By planting a selection of bulbs now that will bloom sequentially, you will be able to enjoy up to six months of colour from January through July.
As with most things in the gardening world, a transition is taking place as the Millennial generation becomes more engaged with plants. Although bulbs are relatively easy care, a little wisdom, strategy and creativity can make all the difference.
It seems that the most appreciated bulbs are the ones earliest to bloom. A spot of colour in the midst of winter is a much-appreciated treat. From bright yellow, buttercup-like winter aconites to numerous varieties of snowdrops, these very early January and February bloomers naturalize in the ground and create an ever-increasing display each year. Planted with ground covers, like deep purple ajugas, silver thyme or creeping phlox, their performance is much enhanced.
Crocuses are vibrant early performers, and they too are more richly exhibited when planted among ground covers. I have used a bed of sedum ‘Angelina’ as a complement for their February and March bloom times. More folks are planting crocuses in lawn areas for a charming effect. By the time the lawns need mowing, their flowers and foliage have disappeared until next year.
Daffodils (or narcissus) are the most recognized spring flowers, and some very early varieties really kickstart spring. Narcissus ‘February Gold’, as its name implies, is a great early bloomer. Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ blooms in late February or earlier. Once planted for at least a year and depending on the mildness of the winter, I’ve seen them bloom in January. Even when cold winds and snow batter them, they bounce back and continue blooming.
There’s a little trick to keeping daffodils as a presence in your garden for a much longer period. By mixing early yellow trumpet types with midseason and late varieties and by planting them together in one clump, you will seemingly extend their bloom time. A combination package, called ‘Yellow Brick Road’, is a blend of various yellow trumpet daffodils specifically selected to provide a long bloom period. To heighten their effect and conceal withering foliage, plant them among perennials, like evergreen euphorbias and grasses, and with compact shrubs, like dwarf spireas, physocarpus and dark leafed weigelas.
Many later blooming narcissus offer a wide colour selection, and many are highly perfumed, making them excellent choices for indoor cut bouquets. Older fragrant favourites include N. ‘Cheerfulness’, ‘Yellow Cheerfulness’ and ‘Geranium.’ The most perfumed of all is ‘Bridal Crown,’ a delightful double white.
There’s been a love affair with tulips for as long as I can remember. They are highly valued as cut flowers. By strategically choosing certain varieties, you can stretch their blooming time over three months. The earlier tulips bloom, the shorter they tend to be, while later blooming varieties can reach up to three feet in height. I’m very fond of early botanical tulips because of their tiny, spectacular, multicoloured blooms and their naturalizing habit.
The first tulips to bloom are the single early types, followed soon by the Triumphs. Compact and strong, both stand up well in blustery spring weather. Main season Darwin hybrids, the varieties we are most familiar with, grow about two feet tall. Frilly, fringed, green-touched viridifloras stretch the season into May, and unique peony tulips close the spring bulb show with a bang.
In June, when you thought bulbs were done, wonderful alliums stage the grand finale. From tiny blooming Allium moly luteum to the mid-sized ‘Drumsticks’ (A. sphaerocephalon’) and the giants Allium giganteum and A. ‘Globemaster,’ they create impact when other garden colour is just beginning, and they all attract pollinators.
If you have a garden with a sloping bank that really needs a pick-me-up, plant a drift of a few hundred grape hyacinths or Spanish bluebells. Both are available in blues, pinks and whites. They will make quite a showing next spring and for years to come.
While enjoying bulbs in containers is trendy, a warmer winter climate is a must. Larger sized containers and well-draining soils are also important for success. For the most beautiful effect, layer your bulbs. Place early single tulips on the bottom (8 to 10 inches deep). Add smaller daffodils, like ‘Tete-a-Tete’ above them, then hyacinths, muscari and lastly, crocuses. Top dress your pots with violas, pansies or colourful grasses and perennials so your planters look nice through fall and winter. Keep the pots moist and protected from severe cold. In colder climates, bury your pots in the ground during the coldest months; then lift them out when night temperatures are just above freezing.
For folks living with deer in their yard, be selective with bulb choices. These wonderful creatures are changing the varieties of plants we use in our gardens. The best deer resistant bulbs are narcissus, hyacinths, muscari, Dutch iris, scillas, anemones, Fritillaria imperialis (Crown Imperial lily) and late blooming alliums. If squirrels are an issue, cover your bulbs with close-knit poultry wire or plant them in special containers designed to protect bulbs.
While the selection in garden stores is still good, pick up some bulbs. They all prefer well-draining soils. Fall bulbs will give you something special to anticipate during the dark days of winter. Plant spring now!