Plant Bulbs for Spring Color

— Written By
blossom with bee

Blue bottles, Muscari neglectum, with bee

Planting bulbs this fall is an easy and inexpensive way to guarantee a splash of color for your spring landscape and provide critical nectar and pollen sources for early season pollinators. While late fall (mid-November through mid-December) is the best time to plant spring blooming bulbs in the Piedmont, early fall is the time to order or purchase them.

Ordering bulbs through the Chatham County Extension Master Gardenersm Program’s fall bulb sale is an easy way to acquire great bulbs for your landscape while supporting our outreach programs that promote sustainable gardening in Chatham County. Click here to learn more about our bulb sale and how you can order bulbs to plant this fall.

Recommended Varieties

Not all bulb varieties are equally long lived. Most fall planted bulbs can be counted on to come up and bloom the spring after they are planted. Some will come back and bloom for three or four years before dying out, while others are true perennials that persist and multiply for many years.

Make the most of your bulb planting experience by seeking out the following reliably perennial bulb varieties, recommended by Chatham County Master Gardenersm volunteers.

Deer Resistant Favorites

Spring flowering bulbs can be a target for deer, but some varieties are much less likely to be damaged than others. Among the most deer resistant are daffodils, starflower, and summer snowflake.

daffodils

Daffodil ‘February Gold’

Daffodils are a well-known harbinger of spring, but not all types are equally reliable. If you are looking for a classic, large-flowered yellow daffodil that will return and multiply for years to come plant ‘St.Keverne’, one of the best all-around performers for southern landscapes. For a splash of yellow very early in the season try ‘February Gold’ or ‘Jack Snipe’, both of which mature at under a foot tall.

Also dependable are the varieties sometimes referred to as jonquils, known for their exceptionally fragrant blossoms. Reliable jonquil varieties include ‘Quail’, which bears multiple golden yellow blossoms on each stem, and ‘Minnow’, a low growing variety with white and yellow blossoms.

Deer are not likely to munch on starflower (Ipheon uniflorum), a low growing, early bloomer with icy blue, star shaped blossoms. While this plant’s blossoms are sweetly fragrant, the crushed leaves have a garlicky scent. ‘Jesse’ is a lovely, deep blue selection of starflower that is especially striking when paired ‘Jack Snipe’ daffodils.

For slightly later blooms, plant summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum), whose dainty spikes of white bell shaped flowers resemble lily of the valley and open in April. Summer snowflake is one of the few bulbs that tolerates heavy, moist soil conditions.

Species Bulbs for Long-Lived Charm

tulips

Lady tulips, Tulipa clusiana

If you have gardened in the south for more than a couple of seasons you have probably discovered large flowered hybrid varieties of tulips, crocus and grape hyacinth rarely perennialize here. But have you ever tried the smaller flowered species these hybrids were developed from?

Species bulbs have their own charm and are surprisingly tough despite their delicate appearance. The lady tulip, Tulipa clusiana, is an excellent example . This early blooming, ten inch tall tulip bears dainty yellow and rose-red blossoms in late March and will returned to bloom and multiply for many years.

Also in the category of “less is more” is Crocus tommasinianus, a species of Crocus sometimes referred to as Tommies. While the blooms of this crocus may be smaller than their jumbo cousins, they more than make up for it by producing lots of them in shades of purple, lilac, and white.

For darker shades of purple plant Blue Bottles, Muscari neglectum. This southern heirloom grape hyacinth blooms early, producing 6″ spikes lined with grape-shaped and scented flowers that are a wonderful contrast and understory for taller, yellow daffodils.

Lady tulips, tommies and blue bottles are not deer resistant. If deer visit your landscape be sure to plant them somewhere protected or cover them with chicken wire to prevent damage to their blossoms.

Click here to learn more about these varieties and see images.

Using Bulbs In the Landscape

For high impact, plant bulbs in solid masses or large sweeps. To add color and interest to existing beds and borders, tuck bulbs between perennials and deciduous shrubs, where they will bring early color to otherwise dormant areas. Bulbs also work well in containers, planted beneath winter annuals such as pansies and violas, creating a layered effect when they come up to bloom in spring.

Bulbs perennialize best in sunny areas or under deciduous trees. All bulbs prefer to grow in well drained soil, except summer snowflake, which grows quite happily in heavy, moist soil. A general rule of thumb for planting bulbs is to set them at a depth two to three times the size of the bulb; This means small bulbs are only planted 3” to 4” deep, while larger bulbs like daffodils are planted at a depth of 8”. A slow release or organic fertilizer can be worked into the soil at planting time or applied in spring when bulb foliage begins to emerge.

Learn more!

For more tips on growing fall planted, spring blooming bulbs, check out these online resources from Cooperative Extension:

In Chatham County, Master Gardenersm volunteers are available to answer your gardening questions Monday and Thursday afternoons, from 1:00 – 4:00. To contact a Chatham Master Gardenersm volunteer:

  • Call  919-545-2715
  • Email chathamemgv@gmail.com
  • Visit NC Cooperative Extension – Chatham County Center, located in the west end of the Chatham County Agriculture and Conference Center, 1192 US 64W Business, Pittsboro. Click here for directions

Contacting the Master Gardenersm volunteers in your county will ensure you get the best advice for your area and will connect you with local resources. Connect with Master Gardenersm volunteers in your county: Click here for EMG contact info in other counties

N.C. Cooperative Extension has an office in every county. Find your local N.C. Cooperative Extension County Center.

Use Extension Search to find research based information from Cooperative Extension systems across the U.S. or post your questions to be answered online via Extension’s ‘Ask an Expert’ widget.