By Laurie Brown
Reader Garden Columnist
Spring blooming bulbs can provide a glorious show, many blooming before many other plants leaf out. Sadly, many of us find them an exercise in frustration, as some of the showiest are prime targets for hungry animals. Tulips, which put on the biggest show, are a delicacy for deer and gophers. Daffodils are supposed to be deer resistant and are poisonous, but they still fall prey to gophers. While it’s a given any of us living rural will face critters, the frequency of moose visits right in town tells me tulips aren’t any safer there! We all face rodents—my bulbs get eaten by gophers and mice; in town squirrels and chipmunks are the enemy. No fencing will deal with rodents. Are we doomed to have no spring bulbs?
There are actually quite a few bulbs that are critter resistant and are hardy in our area. Some are showy, while others are classed as ‘small bulbs’. Small bulbs can create a show, too, when planted in masses. Thankfully, the small ones are cheaper than the big guys!
One showy one is my favorites the hyacinth. They don’t get tall, but their clear colors grab the eye. They come in bright shades (shocking pink and bright purple) and soft ones (yellow, peach, soft purple, light pink, white) and they all have a heavenly fragrance. Plant these beauties where you’ll be working outside when they are blooming to enjoy the scent! They do best in full sun.
Also in the hyacinth family are some less showy ones; bluebells (hyacinthoides) and grape hyacinths (muscari). Muscari look like tiny, six-inch tall hyacinths, mostly bluish-purple but also available in pale blue-purple and white. They aren’t picky as to sun or shade. They do spread rapidly, but not invasively. Spanish bluebells, on the other hand, can be invasive; I’d stick to English bluebells. These plants will grow in shade, even under trees where other plants fail. Also known as wood hyacinths, most are blue purple but can be found in pink and white, too. They are beautiful planted in swathes under trees and shrubs.
The other showy, critter-resistant bulbs are in the fritillaria family. Crown Imperials are the biggest and brightest; they send up tall stems and at the top of it numerous red or yellow bells hang down. Guinea hen flower, on the other hand, has graceful, branched stems with one or two checkered flowers of purple and white hanging from each stem end. Both species have long lasting flowers.
No spring garden is complete without crocus, which bloom very early. They don’t make much of a show, but at that time of year, when there is frequently still snow, any flowers are welcome! They spread slowly and come in light or dark purple, white, yellow and striped. They require absolutely no care. They don’t show up from a distance, so plant them near the walkway.
Then there are the really small bulbs. Windflower anemones look like little blue-purple daisies, while de Caen anemones have poppy-like flowers in brilliant red, deep purple, and white. Soak the bulbs, which look like wood chips, for a few hours in room temperature water before planting. There are multiple snowdrops species; all are white flowered, most with green touches. They come in doubles and singles, grow in any exposure except full shade, bloom very early, and spread fast. The brilliant yellow of winter aconite blends well with snowdrops; they are both three inches tall and bloom at the same time. Glory-of-the-snow has star shaped blue flowers and are also super early. They are another bulb that grows happily under trees, even black walnuts.
It’s time to plant spring blooming bulbs now. All bulbs need good drainage to prevent rot. Make sure to plant them top side up; if in doubt (as can be the situation with anemones) plant them on edge. A light mulch is fine, but don’t mulch deeply, especially with the small bulbs. You don’t want them to have to struggle to come up.
Laurie Brown will be taking a break from her gardening column for the winter. We thank her for the great content she has provided for our readers and look forward to her starting the column again next spring.