Ah, to dream of spring and its wondrous display of blooming bulbs. Dainty purple crocuses sporting bright yellow centers, an impressive blanket of yellow daffodils or gloriously elegant tulips in numerous colors — they are all a proud announcement of spring.
We deserve some spring cheerfulness after this year of challenges; nothing can provide more color come spring than planting a few handfuls of bulbs this month. Leaf through any bulb catalog and you’ll be enchanted — and hooked!
It’s a wonder how that smooth little nodule you hold in your hand can transform into such beauty in a few short winter months. Time to plant them now. Tulips, daffodils and many hardy bulbs thrive in our climate.
If you later come across forgotten and somewhat shriveled ones tucked away, go ahead and plant them. Although they will have less vigor, for them, it’s better late than never.
Most bulbs need a sunny site and good drainage. They will provide their best performance with these amenities and a balanced fertilizer. Pass on adding bone meal, as additional phosphorus isn’t needed here. Read the label to determine how deep to plant, although a general guideline is about two times the bulb height. Feed with a high-nitrogen fertilizer at blooming time. After bloom, remove flower heads but not leaves, as they are needed for replenishing bulbs for next year’s repeat performance.
A grouping of one variety and color makes the most splash visually. Petite bloomers may be visually lost unless clustered together and located for close-up attention. Rock gardens are usually constructed with smaller plants in mind, so crocus and diminutive narcissus (daffodils) are ideal.
The true harbingers of spring are ground-hugging snow crocus. Suddenly their bright little blossoms appear, a couple of weeks ahead of the slightly larger Dutch hybrid crocus group.
Next come the early daffodils. Dainty ones like February Gold and Jetfire are perfect miniatures of the classic big guys. They’ll be followed by the larger trumpet ones, such as Orange Sunset and white Mt. Hood. The last daffodils to bloom are the fragrant and multi-stemmed Jonquils, such as canary-yellow Baby Moon and apricot-yellow Kedron.
Keep in mind daffodils point their heads toward the sun, so consider your viewing site and plant them north of that area. One clear advantage of daffodils is deer and gophers don’t eat them, while tulips are happy fodder for these pests.
Classic and stately tulips are a spring ritual, with their amazing colors. Earliest include the Kaufmannianas, which are small, low-growing gems, and the Emperors — Red Emperor is an heirloom iconic of spring. Then come species tulips and the giant Darwins. So many colors — a challenge to choose!
We haven’t even touched on the multitude of lesser known bulbs, such as dainty snowflakes (Leucojums) with their perfect, bell-shaped nodding flowers tipped with green dots, enticing trout lilies (Erthronium) native to our Northwest or Alliums, an easy-to-grow relative in the onion family that includes a huge range of clustered flowers, both large and small.
Just dreaming of all these beauties next spring makes these darker days exciting!
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. Mary Fran McClure is one of four columnists featured. To learn more, visit wwrld.us/cdmg or call 667-6540.