Spring Bulb Planning Guide

Now is the time to plan for next spring’s bulb display.  This is actually easier and more affordable than you might think, because I will show you a couple of ways to use plants that you already have growing in your garden as the basis of creating a spring vignette with bulbs added.

Step One:  Take a walk around your garden now with a clipboard and a pencil.

What you want to do is make a list of all your spring-flowering shrubs–things like forsythia, red-flowering currant, camillia, witch hazel and others.  List those together in a group. 

Next, make a list of spring-blooming perennials that you have growing in your garden.  They might include columbine, candytuft, hellebore, ajuga, hardy geraniums and others.

Finally, make a list of any dwarf evergreen conifers that you have in your garden.

The shrubs, perennials and dwarf evergreens will create the backbone of a beautiful spring display that incorporates bulbs. 

Step Two:  Mark in the colors.

Now that you have your lists of shrubs, perennials and dwarf evergreens, write what color or colors they predominately are in the springtime.  So I would mark forsythia as yellow, because it is loaded with yellow flowers, columbine will vary but could be pink, purple or white, and the dwarf conifers might be gold, blue, or dark green.  If you are a visual person like I am, you might like to do this with colored pencils or pens, or even to be more precise paint chip colors to match from the hardware store.

Step Three:  Note the Bloom Time.

This may be a little tricky to do if you have never kept records of your garden flowers.  What you want to do is mark down when each of the spring-blooming shrubs and perennials are in bloom.  I keep detailed records of exactly when these bloom in my garden–if you want to give it a try, here is a post on how I set up my gardening notebooks to give me important information for both flowers and vegetables.  However, here is a little list of some of my plants and when they bloom to help you get started.  I live in SW Washington State, garden zone 8, so if you live a little north of here, your bloom dates will probably be a couple of weeks later, and if you live a little south of here, your bloom dates will probably be a couple of weeks sooner.   It really depends upon your particular garden’s microclimate, so your dates could vary from mine as listed.  It also varies if we have a warm spring–everything will bloom earlier– or a cold and wet spring–everything will bloom later, so take it under advisement:

Spring-blooming shrubs:

Chinese Witch Hazel ‘Arnold Promise’:  Jan. 28-March 5

‘Tuscan Blue’ rosemary:  Feb 19-April 11

Flowering quince ‘Texas Scarlet’:  Feb 23-May 6

Forsythia:  March 6–April 4

Oregon Grape (when it is flowering):  March 17-April 10

Red-flowering currant:  March 13-April 30

Choiysa ternata ‘Sundance’ (Mexican mock orange):  April 10-June 10

Rhodedendron:  April 29-May 30

Spring-blooming perennials:

Candytuft:  Jam. 6-April 30

Corsican hellebore:  Feb 14-June 10

Rock Cress:  Mar. 13-May 5

Ajuga:  April 1-May 20

Hardy geranium ‘Bevan’s Variety’:  April 8-June 1

Columbine: March 29-June 15

Jupiter’s Beard:  April 25–into the fall off and on

Geranium cantibrigense:  April 29-July 10

Step Four:  Add in the bulbs.

Now the fun begins!  You will start to add in spring-flowering bulbs that bloom at approximately the same time as your spring-blooming shrubs and perennials to create a gorgeous display next spring.

Spring bulbs are loosely classified as early blooming, mid-season blooming, and late blooming–this information is typically marked on the packaging when you buy them.   Here is a quick list of some that I have planted and when they bloom:

Early Blooming Bulbs (January-March)

Winter aconite and yellow crocus

 1.  Eranthis hyemalis (Winter Aconite)

  • -3-4 inches tall
  • -bloom February and into March
  • -best to soak tiny bulbs overnight before planting
  • -plant 1-2 inches deep
  • -do best where they get full sun in winter and spring but shade in summer


2.  Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrops)

  • -6 inches tall
  • -can start blooming in January
  • -bloom well in sun or shade


Iris reticulata

3.  Iris reticulata

  • -blooms February to March
  • -6 inches tall
  • -plant in groups of 10 or 12 for best effect
  • -like sun and well-drained soil
  • -don’t overwater in summer or let other plants elbow them out


4.  Iris danfordiae

  • -the yellow version of Iris reticulata
  • -They sometimes don’t return after the first year. This is because the bulbs split into dozens of little bulblets after first year bloom, then they disappear.
  • -To prevent this, plant them 4-6 inches deep instead of the usual 2-3.


5.  Scilla sibirica (Squill)

  • -5 inches tall
  • -blooms February to March
  • -like well-drained soil
  • -likes winter and spring sun

 Spring-blooming bulbs (April-June, depending upon the variety):

1.  Allium

  • -varieties bloom April through June
  • -easy to grow
  • -multiply rapidly; control by deadheading or dividing
  • -need sun, space, well-drained soil–curb strips!

2.   Grecian Windflowers (anemone)

  • -bloom early, and for a long time
  • -the tubers are tiny–if you can’t figure out which end is up, plant them sideways–the plant will figure it out! (I got this tip from Ann Lovejoy–smart!)
  • –like exposed places, but bloom best in good garden soil with moisture in winter and spring

    Mixed crocus


3.  Crocus

  • -bloom February through March
  • -bloom earliest in sunny areas, but will grow in less than ideal conditions
  • -can naturalize in a lawn as long as you let their leaves ripen
  • -look best planted in larger groups–10 to 20

 4.  Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperialis)

  •  -Can grow to four feet tall!
  • -Need well-drained soil = put some gravel in the planting hole, prefers full sun but will tolerate light shade
  • -They like water in the winter and spring, yet dry during summer dormancy
  • -Plant them 8 inches deep and tip the bulb to the side a bit so it doesn’t get crown rot (another good tip from Ann Lovejoy)
  • -Add one teaspoon of dolomite lime in and around the planting hole to help combat our acidic soil

    Checkered fritilaria


 5.  Checkered Fritillaria (Fritillaria meleagris)

  • -They top out around 12 inches tall
  • -They really do look like a checker board
  • -Cream and purple, or solid whites, purples and rose colors
  • -The bulbs are dried out when you buy them. Soak in warm water a few hours to help hydrate them, then plant
  • -Like light shade and nutrient-rich soil

    Hyacinth 'Jan Bos'


6.  Hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis)

  • -Pretty, very fragrant, and easy to grow!
  • -Need decent soil, some sun,
  • -Nice for forcing indoors in winter
  • -Older bulbs tend to bloom a little looser, and the flower heads are slightly smaller

    Mixed tulips, grape hyacinth, and forget-me-nots


7.  Grape hyacinth-

  • The common deep blue Muscari armeniacum tend to take over your beds-a beautiful beast. Keep that in mind when you place them in the garden–try them around rhodies or shrub borders, or a spot where they can run wild a bit.

    Narcissus: 'King Alfred type, 'Geranium' with orange center, and white 'Thalia', along with Spirea 'Goldflame'

8.  Daffodils (Narcissus)

  • -Easy to grow
  • -Likes full sun to part sun
  • -Likes good drainage

 Good ones to try:

Early, with small blooms:  ‘Tete-a-Tete’, ‘Jetfire’

Mid-season:  ‘King Alfred type’ single daffodils, ‘Tahiti’ double yellow with orange eye daffs

late-season, double flowers:  ‘Yellow Cheerfulness’, ‘Winston Churchill’–a white version of Yellow Cheerfulness

Red tulips with Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing' in the back

 9.  Tulips

  • -plant them deep-8-10 inches so they’re more likely to return
  • -well-drained soil
  • -sunny spot
  • -ones more likely to come back next year are labeled “single early tulips’ and ‘Darwin’ tulips

Good ones to try:

early tulips:  (end of February into March):  ‘Johannes Strauss’ tulips–these are low-growing and tend to multiply; they have red and yellow striped petals

Mid- bloomers (for tulips, this means middle of March through first week of May):  ‘Triumph Beau Monde’-single pink and white stripes, ‘Atilla’-Purple, lily tulip ‘Aladdin’s Redord-red with a yellow to white edge, ‘Triumph Judith Leyster’-single pink

late bloomers (for tulips, this is April well into May)generally speaking, all the Parrot-type tulips are late blooming, and they are usually double flowers: ‘Rococo’ parrot tulip–double deep red, Darwin tulip ‘Golden Apeldoorn’-yellow, ‘White Triumphator’ lily tulip, 

Step 5:  Enjoy some spring-flowering shrub/perennial/bulb combinations to whet your appetite:

More tips:

  • Get a simple colorwheel–you can print them out for free online–and pair your shrub and perennial colors to your bulb colors.  You can use colors that are complementary, or next to each other on the color wheel, for a more subtle look, or go for contrasting colors, which are opposite each other on the color wheel, for greater dramatic impact.  (Guess which I prefer?  You got it–contrasting, in most cases, but not all!)
  • The absolutely best book I know of about planting bulbs in the Pacific Northwest is Seasonal Bulbs by Ann Lovejoy.
  • If you don’t have a garden, don’t worry–you can combine these plants just as easily in containers that you group together for a lovely display–even indoors if you can chill the bulbs in a cold garage and have good lighting for them when you bring them in to bloom.  Try a dwarf evergreen conifer on its own in a big container, and surround it in front with winter and spring-blooming bulbs.


Hyacinth ‘Blue Jacket’ at work in a mixed border: combined with ‘Ice Follies’ narcissus, ‘Tete-A-Tete’ mini narcissus, pink tulips not yet in bloom, a huge annual, Cerinthe major ‘Purpurenscense’, that wintered over and is blooming purple, a burgundy-leaved Berberis thunbergii ‘Helmond Pillar’, and in the cage is Veronica ‘Goodness Grows’, which will flower later in the season.

Another hyacinth combo: Hyacinth ‘Pink Pearl’ with a pink primrose, a Corsican hellebore, and grape hyacinths (Muscari). There are additional purple tulips behind that are not yet in bloom, and to the side is a clump of ‘Stella d’Oro’ daylily. Behind is the dwarf arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis ‘Rheingold’. Now a baby, it will make a nice backdrop for all of this when it matures.

‘Red-flowering Currant’ partnered with ‘Carnegie’ and ‘Blue Jacket’ hyacinths, grape hyacinths, and ‘Ice Follies’ narcissus. Hummers love the northwest native Ribes, as well as the grape hyacinth. TheRibes will also have glorious fall leaf color to boot. Hard to see, but to the left as a backdrop is a dark green arborvitae, a hummingbird home.

Another great grouping: Lamb’s Ears for an edging, then grape hyacinth, with white mini narcissus ‘Thalia’, pink and white ‘Beau Monde’ tulips, ‘Ice King’ double daffodils, and ‘Salome’ pinkish-centered daffodil. Notice how the firm grey stone background sets off the flowers.


A classic combination: grape hyacinth with mixed yellow and white narcissus, along with a dusky purple sage ‘Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’ 

Notice the perennial Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ coming up to help hide dying bulb foliage later on. Also Blueberry ‘Sunshine Blue,’ and Daylily “Driving Me Wild.”

Blue and Yellow partners: ‘Tuscan Blue’ rosemary, caryopteris ‘Worchester Gold’, chinese witch hazel-Lorapetalum chinense ‘Razzleberry’

This is a group of mixed narcissus–white single ‘Ice follies’, short yellow ‘Tete-a-Tete’ in the front, yellow ‘King Alfred type’ single, ‘Geranium’ singles with orange eyes- growing alongside a spirea ‘Goldflame’ and backed by a ‘Lochinch’ butterfly bush with grey leaves.

‘Angelique’ with new dance partners: New Zealand Flax and Lamb’s Ears

Bulb-Buying Tip:  There are lots of spring-blooming bulbs for sale right now, and the best selection is at garden centers, although they are the most expensive there as well.  I like to shop sales.  Bi-Mart, and likely other sources, will sell bulbs at a reduced rate late in the season, likely when it starts to get colder around the end of October or so–this is when I dive in and get a bunch.  If planted late, they will bloom late next year, but will get back on track the following year.

Bulb-Planting Tips:  You can plant your spring bulbs at the recommended depth for each bulb.  It is sometimes faster to use a big shovel and dig a bigger hole if you are planting a dozen or more bulbs in one spot, rather than dig little holes for each bulb.  Also, put a handful of complete organic fertilizer or, if you don’t have that, bone meal, in the bottom of each planting hole, put in a little soil to cover, then the bulb and refill the hole.  Water after done, or let the rain do its thing.

October is also the time to fertilize your previously planted spring blooming bulbs.  If you don’t fertilize them now, they won’t bloom well next year, so sprinkle on some complete organic fertilizer or bone meal on those bulbs, preferably when it is getting ready to rain so the fertilizer will disolve right into the soil. Fertilize again in late winter, and you should be good to go for a fantastic season of blooms!

I hope this helps to inspire you and also takes some of the mystery out of combining spring-blooming bulbs with other plants in your garden!

I always love to hear from you, so feel free to leave a comment below.  And visit the Garden Party.


Come See Me This Wednesday, June 16th, At The Camas Farmers’ Market!

I’ll be giving a short presentation on “Garden Notebooks”–how to set up inexpensive garden notebooks for flower and vegetable gardening, and what to record in it in order to make your garden better from year to year.  I’ll start these presentations–which should only run about 20 minutes or so–at 3:15pm, and will then repeat it at the top of each hour through 7 pm.

Feel free to stop by the market, pick up some great berries and vegetables, meats, desserts, fabulous prepared foods, mushrooms and flowers from local producers, and stop by my presentation to say hi!

Who:  Athena from Minerva’s Garden

What:  “Gardening Notebooks’ gardening presentation

When:  Wednesday, June 16th, 3:15pm, 4pm, 5pm, 6pm and 7pm

Where:  Camas Farmers’ Market, in front of the Library on 4th Ave. in downtown Camas

Why:  To learn what information you can record in a notebook that will help you improve you garden from year to year and avoid making the same mistakes.

Cost:  Free!

Perusing The Seed Catalogs

They have come in abundance–the early seed catalogs, filling my mind with possibilities for my upcoming gardening season.  There are several ways that I like to look through the catalogs:

1.  I like to look for my dependable favorite seeds, to make sure they are still available.

2.  I then like to look for new veggis that would count as a “short season” variety.  This is essentially what we have to work with over our fairly cool summers, so anything that is 30-56 or so days to maturity could be very successful here.

3.  Older catalogs I use with my scissors and tape on a piece of paper.  You can cut out the pictures of the plants you are planning on planting, and then make a rough outline of your garden beds, and tape the appropriate pictures to the designated beds where you want them to grow.  In this way, you can picture in advance what the beds will look like, and can make adjustments prior to doing the hard work of digging and planting.  This works well for both flowers and vegetable beds.

It’s supposed to get pretty rainy this weekend, so this would be a great activity for some armchair gardening!

Leave a comment, and let me know what seed varieties you’ll be planting this year!

Out With The Old, In With The New–Gardening Wrap-up

The first post of the new year!  I am excited to get gardening again.  And frankly, the weather is so warm I may just do that very soon.

I want to offer a few garden observations, and some actions that I will perform differently this year based on my gardening experiences of last year.

–It’s a tradition now that we head out to Portland Nursery around Valentine’s Day to purchase seeds.  They usually have a good selection at that time, and we stock up for the year.

–Potato starts must be purchased before May 1st–no one has them for sale after this date.

-Stats from last year:  –last killing frost in the spring:  March 12th (2008 it was Mar. 31st)

— first killing frost in the fall:  December 3rd (2008 it was Dec. 14th)

–reliably above 40 degrees at night:  May 13th (2008 it was May 1st)

— reliably above 50 degrees at night:  July 1st (2008 it was June 26th)

–reliably above 55 degrees at night:  never (2008 it was never)

–days of rain in June:  6 days (2008 it was 7 days)

— days of rain in July:  1 day (2008 it was 4 days)

— days of rain in August:  4 days (2008 it was 9 days)

I use this information to help me determine when to start which types of seeds, and also when I can safely plant seeds outside for germination, and for tender plants when I can expect them to have the temperatures they need to get the fruits to mature.

–Grafting of new fruit trees happens around the first weekend in March.

–I will start my canna lilies indoors under light during the month of March to plant out when it warms up later in the spring.

–Always wear eye protection when pruning.  I scratched one of my eyes last year being stupid and not wearing eye protection, and it hurt like crazy, so be smart.

–I start most of my seeds indoors by March 14th.  These include the tender summer plants like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.

–I soaked sweet pea seeds overnight, then planted them outdoors in pots in a protected spot by March 22nd.  They bloomed great this year, and were flowering by June 12th.

–I started our first salad greens bed outside under plastic on March 21st, and we were eating salad by May 2nd.

–I put my garden hoses out by May 28th.

–Hanging baskets can be planted and put out most years by the middle of May.  This can vary if you have a protected spot for them or not.

–I plant my tomatoes out in June.  Some people plant them out way earlier and use Wall o-waters or other plastic covers for them.  I have used this method in the past, and in my opinion it’s a lot of work for not much in return in terms of getting ripe tomatoes quicker.  Tomatoes won’t ripen until it hits 55 degrees at night–they ripen at night, so take a look at my temperature records and draw your own conclusion as to when you should plant.  I prefer to use as little work as possible to get a reasonably good result–you might choose to do otherwise.  I then plant the peppers and eggplant out after the tomatoes, because it needs to be 60 degrees at night for these plants to produce mature fruit.  I only get good results by growing them under plastic, because it’s usually too cold here at night.  Cucumbers and pumpkins I plant out after the eggplant and peppers–it works much better to chit the seeds first, then plant them out.  Check out my earlier post from last spring on how to do this.

–Cukes:  I will plant fewer fresh eating cuke plants so that I can add more pickling cukes, so that I can preserve some.

–date of first ripe tomatoes:  August 9th (2008 it was August 11th)  The earliest I ever had them in a good   year was July 22nd.

–For my birthday I am asking for a compost screen.  This is a frame with metal screen in it, and you throw shovelfuls of compost at it, and what makes it through the screen are the very fine, finished compost particles that are perfect for starting seed beds outside.

–Diatomaceous earth is an organic method for killing flea beetles.  I had some on some potatoes I grew in 2008, and they wintered over in the soil and went after my tomato starts this year that I had planted where the potatoes were previously, but this nipped them in the bud right away before they did much damage to the plants.  You can also plant radishes nearby, because they like radishes better than tomatoes.  The beetles go after new growth on the tomatoes, so if you get them  covered with the earth right away, the rest of the plant should be fine.

–You can plant basil starts outdoors in June.  Last year I could have started pole and bush bean seeds outdoors in May.

–I am done with planting most brassicas.  We get cabbage moths here, and it is a ton of work to try to get them to grow.  After having tried for a couple of years, with the amount of work it takes I think I’d rather try something that will produce a lot and is easier to grow.  A nearby friend grows great broccoli and has no trouble at all from cabbage moths, so perhaps it depends on where you live.

–Going to try a new cherry tomato.  The ‘Super Sweet 100s” mature early and taste great, but they split badly.  ‘Gardener’s Delight” is supposed to be a similar cherry tomato that does not split,

–If you are planning to bring green tomatoes in to store and ripen for the winter, pick them no later than Oct. 1st.  If you wait longer, they get damaged by the rain and will rot inside.

–If you pot up paperwhite bulbs in a deep container by Nov. 7th, water and then put them in the garage,  you can bring them indoors in December and they will be in bloom for the winter holidays.

–We were eating green salads from the garden everyday through Nov. 30th–growing salad greens under plastic will help your grocery bill tremendously.

–I’ll be setting up my gardening notebooks for the new year soon–see my post from last January on how to do that.  I like to write in general in the top margin of the calendar page when I need to fertilize and prune roses and clematis, and also care for my outside bulbs–mostly when to fertilize them.  Once that’s in the calendar, I have an idea of what I need to do, and can fit it in whenever I have time during the month.

Hope this helps you have a great garden this year!

If you liked this post, leave a comment–what are you going to do differently in your garden this year?

Start A Garden Notebook Now

It’s the start of a new year, and this is an excellent time while the garden is kicking back for you to put together a garden notebook. I actually have two that I use constantly. The first has two main sections–Bloom Sequence and To Do. Behind each of these sections I put a blank large-square calendar, with a separate page for each month. I also put a few blank pieces of notebook paper behind the current month. The second notebook focuses on the vegetable gardening that I do, and it also uses blank calendar and notebook paper pages.

On the “bloom sequence” calendar pages, you will write down when your plants start blooming by date. On the notebook pages, you’ll do a separate page for each type of plant that you grow–one page for roses, one for perennials, one for shrubs, one for evergreens, one for vines, one for bulbs, etc. On this page you go into a bit more detail, by making columns for bloom start and end dates, plus the name of the plant and the color of the flowers. By keeping close track of this, after a couple of years you will see which plants you can group together so you will have a spectacular display with things blooming at the same time, or in sequence to prolong the display. You can also see what color plants would set off what you already own and can also see when you might not have anything in bloom and need to plug something in that blooms in those empty times, so you can be more selective when you go to the spring plant sales or purchase seeds.

The “to do” section is just that–you write down garden chores that need to be done, and by date when. You might try the first year simply writing down the chores you did and when. Next year you can refine it even more, and jot down notes to yourself to do things at certain beneficial times, such as caging and staking plants early in the spring, for example, before they get gigantic and it’s hard to do. I bring forward notes that I make to myself during the year on my next year’s calendar, and it helps me to not forget to do things at the appropriate time in my garden.

The vegetable garden notebook has a wealth of info. in it. Every day you can start to record the high and low temperature in your area, and at the end of the month note the highest temp. and the lowest temp. at the top of the calendar. This will help you loads in figuring out when is the right time to plant certain plants and seeds that need a certain temperature in order to grow or germinate. I also list all of the seeds I buy, and the brands. I note whether I start the seeds inside or plant them outdoors.   I note whether they need darkness or light to germinate–you can find this out online via any search engine.  I also make a column for when we actually can eat the food from the plant, and a final column–would I do this again? This info. is invaluable in helping you figure out which seed companies have good seeds, and which varieties work well in your particular microclimate in your garden. On the notebook paper, I keep an informal journal pertaining to growing vegetables as needed, giving more detail to quick notes that I write on the calendar pages so I won’t forget the next year. I always jot down on the calendar when I  plant my starts outside and the date they start producing food that I can pick and eat, and I always note the last killing frost in spring and the first killing frost in fall. This lets you know approximately how many growing days you have in your area, and whether you can grow short-season or long-season crops.

This sounds more complicated than it really is. I probably spend five minutes a day at most on updating these notebooks. But it saves me a lot of time and money when I can refer back to my notebooks and not make the same mistakes in my garden twice, and can repeat successes many times over.

Try it–you and your garden will like it!