The Oct. 1 Gardening with the Masters column spotlighted crocus as spring bulbs, and I talked about using “minor” spring flowering bulbs in the landscape in addition to “The Big Three” of Tulips, Daffodils and Hyacinths. Crocus are probably the most commonly used minor bulb. Here are suggestions for other “minor” bulbs you might consider planting into your landscape this fall.
Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), a member of the buttercup family, is found naturally from southern France to Bulgaria in Europe. Its yellow, buttercup-type blooms appear on dwarf, 3 to six 6-inch plants. Plants do well in partial shade to full sun, though they do need a good supply of moisture if in full sun. A good naturalizing plant, it will self-seed. Winter Aconite is a perennial tuber and not a bulb. It is recommended that you soak the tubers overnight before planting. In the late summer and early fall plant the tubers 2 to 3 inches deep and 3 inches apart.
Snowdrops (Galanthus sp.) are perfectly named for their snow-white blossoms that gracefully nod toward the ground, which is often still covered with the winter white stuff. Blooming as early as February they grow well under trees and are good for naturalizing and random plantings. Their drooping white flowers have a green splotch around the inner segments. Glory of the Snow (Chiondoxa sp.) brings clusters of star-shaped blooms in purple, rose or white in late winter or early spring. The flowers are small, so masses of plantings are needed for the best display. It is also an excellent bulb for naturalizing and will self-seed. Mowing the green foliage too soon after they bloom will result in a decline of the planting so delay the mowing of the area if possible in the spring. Glory of the Snow performs best in full sun.
Squill (Scilla sp.) includes several species of early spring bloomers and though the blue squill is the most common, there are also white, lavender and pink selections. Several species are native to woodland habitats and do best in partial shade. Siberian squill (S. sbierica) produces small spikes of drooping flowers that are bright blue in color. It produces strap-like leaves about one-half inch in width and grows to a height of about six inches. Squill blooms when the weather warms in spring, normally in March.
Spanish Bluebells, sometimes confused with Siberian Squill, have much taller flowers and bloom much late in the spring than the Squill. Native to Spain and Portugal, these plants are members of the lily family and easy to grow. They are not demanding about light and soil. Spanish bluebells reproduce by developing small offsets (baby bulbs) on the sides of the mother bulbs. They are great for naturalizing areas, but they can also become invasive because they reproduce so well.
Summer snowflake (Leucojum sp.) blooms a bit later in mid to late spring, with white, nodding flowers accented at each petal tip with a greenish-yellow splotch. Summer snowflake does well in partial shade to full sun.
Finally, if you like Hyacinths don’t forget the Grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum), another member of the lily family that is native to southeastern Europe. Grape hyacinth’s common name refers to the plant’s clusters of small, bell-shaped, cobalt-blue flowers (with narrow, white rims) that look like clusters of grapes. The scientific name Muscari comes from the Greek word for musk, and refers to the mildly sweet fragrance, variously described as slightly grassy or grapey, that is produced by the plant’s flowers. Once established, grape hyacinths readily naturalize, reproducing by division and self-seeding. As will some of the other minor bulbs, under the right environmental conditions, grape hyacinths can become invasive.
So, this October, when you are looking through the spring flowering bulb displays at the retail garden centers or checking online sources for some of the “Big Three” bulbs don’t forget to add some of the “minors” to enhance your spring flower bulb display. Happy Gardening!