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:
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
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)
2. Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrops)
3. Iris reticulata
4. Iris danfordiae
5. Scilla sibirica (Squill)
Spring-blooming bulbs (April-June, depending upon the variety):
-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
-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
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)
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
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:
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.