Spring blooms start with fall planting, so now's the time to choose your bulbs. Gardeners often ask which bulbs will last in the garden...
Spring blooms start with fall planting, so now’s the time to choose your bulbs. Gardeners often ask which bulbs will last in the garden for more than one year of enjoyment. I’ve grown all the varieties listed here, and they persist!
CROCUS. These bulbs multiply and return, often for decades. Earliest are the snow crocuses, which often bloom in January west of the Cascades; these include ‘Golden Bunch,’ white ‘Ard Schenk’ and deep violet ‘Blue Bird.’ In February, larger Crocus vernus can produce 4- to 5-inch flowers in the familiar goblet shape. Look for ‘Yellow Mammoth,’ white ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ and deep blue-violet ‘Remembrance.’
Pesky gray squirrels can prevent longevity of crocus plantings, munching crocuses as if they were chocolate truffles. Protect them by laying ¼-inch mesh hardware cloth on top of the soil after planting. Cover the metal layer with a mulch. Slender crocus flowers will come up through the mesh in spring.
DAFFODILS. Other names are Narcissus and, if you grew up in the American South, jonquils. Sturdy, often deliciously fragrant, blooming from late February through April, daffodils represent one of the most long-lasting of the spring bulbs. You’ll find tiny 6-inch ‘Tete a Tete,’ named for the two flowers on each stalk, which seem to be talking to each other. These lasted over 10 years in my Seattle garden.
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Another long-lived winner is brilliant yellow ‘Carlton’; also try ‘Quail’ or ‘Flower Record.’ Nearly all daffodils will survive well here; they enjoy spring rains and our long, cool growing season.
TULIPS. Giant, frolicking, shining tulips often fade after two years. A few of the brightest will persist, often being labeled “perennial.” A long-lived beauty is ‘Apeldoorn’ — bright red with a black star at the calyx inside the flower. These lasted more than 15 years for me.
Darwin Tulip ‘Pink Impression’ and Single Late ‘Menton’ also roar back. Species tulips survive beautifully, including white and yellow T. tarda, and T. bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder.’
Keep tulip plantings dry during the summer for best return. Some growers tuck them into plastic nursery pots and sink them into the garden, removing them to a dry spot after the leaves fade.
MUSCARI. Clear blue, sky blue, deep-purple blue — muscari are most valued for their vivid color. Also called grape hyacinths for their resemblance to a tight cluster of fruit, muscari bloom vigorously in midspring. Their deep blue color and small stature (about 4-8 inches) make them good partners for planting in front of taller bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Leaves on older clumps emerge in fall and persist until bloom time in April.
ALLIUM. Late-season alliums are members of the onion family; their globe-shaped flowers bloom in mid-May and June. But like other spring-blooming bulbs, they require planting in October and November. They make great bouncing punctuation marks in the summer border as perennials such as peonies begin to bloom.
These alliums multiply rapidly in our gardens and come back readily year after year. Their flowers, nearly always in a ball shape, range in size from 1 inch across (A. sphaerocephalon ‘Drumstick Allium’) to an amazing 16 inches (Allium schubertii).
Many gardeners are familiar with ‘Globemaster,’ 3 feet tall with flowers bigger than softballs. The named varieties can be costly, so an economical way to enjoy Allium is to buy the species, including Allium aflatunense ‘Purple Sensation.’ The bulbs, leaves and flowers smell a bit oniony, which may help them repel squirrels and deer.
Each spring, I draw sketch maps of the garden areas so I can add a few new bulbs each year to older clumps from previous plantings. Between the ones coming back and the ones I’ve added each fall, there’s abundant spring enjoyment.
Garden expert Mary Robson, retired area horticulture agent for Washington State University/King County Cooperative Extension, appears regularly in Practical Gardener and in the Saturday home section, digs. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.