Spring Blooming Bulbs You Should Plant This Fall

Spring flowers with text before them

Ramon Gonzalez

Garden bulbs that bloom in the spring are usually planted in the fall. Summer may seem like an odd time to start thinking about spring bulbs, but it’s actually a great time to start planning for next spring. By now you know where you had bare spots in the ground that you can fill with bulbs that will provide beautiful color when everything else looks drab in the garden. Plus, if you observe that something you planted this spring isn't doing well in the garden you can choose to remove it and place bulbs in its place. By planing your spring garden now when fall does roll around you’ll be ready to dig some holes, plop some bulbs, and wait. Gardening with bulbs really is that easy. Waiting is the hardest part of gardening with bulbs. They are less fussy than annuals and vegetables, and their blooms are an important forage source for bees in the spring. Let’s take a look at some of my favorite spring bulbs I recommend if you want to get into bulb gardening.

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Tulips

credit: MrBrownThumb

Today tulips are so ubiquitous that it is hard to imagine that tulip mania actually occurred. You can buy tulips that bloom in soft hues or loud, psychedelic colors. There’s a tulip to match every garden style imaginable. While the hybridized garden tulips are certainly beautiful, they will usually need to be replaced every couple of years because the bulbs eventually weaken and die.

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Parrot Tulips

credit: MrBrownThumb

Parrot tulips get their name because when they’re at the bud stage the bud resembles the beak of a parrot. Their flamboyantly shaped petals are similarly evocative of the plumage from which they get their name. The red and creamy yellow bloom pictured here is named ‘Flaming Parrot,’ but the blooms come in a variety of colors and the waviness of the petals can vary depending on the hybrid.

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Species Tulips

credit: MrBrownThumb

Species tulips, sometimes called ‘botanical tulips,’ are not as commonly available from garden centers as the hybrid garden tulips from the previous slides. But they’re slowly gaining in popularity as more gardeners discover that they’re even easier to care for-and live longer-than the hybrid garden tulips. While they can be found in a wide-range of colors, species tulips have an understated elegance about them. Species tulips are the tulips that garden tulips were developed from. In the right conditions they can spread and create sizable colonies. One aspect is the species tulips that I admire is that the fading foliage is less unsightly when going dormant than that of hybridized tulips.

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Crocuses

credit: MrBrownThumb

Crocuses are technically corms, but I include them here when talking about bulbs. There are many species and cultivated varieties of crocuses available. I have only ever grown the spring-blooming crocuses, but there are some crocus species that bloom in the fall. Crocuses are a good candidate for a bulb that you can plant under a lawn or grassy area. Early in the spring, before anything else is blooming in my garden, the flowers put on a beautiful show. After the flowers-which attract a lot of bees-fade away you're left with an attractive grass-like foliage.

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Muscari

credit: MrBrownThumb

Muscari is commonly known as Grape Hyacinth, although, in addition to the blue and lavender shades, blooms can be white or yellow. They’re often planted in large drifts to create a ‘river’ effect in early spring landscapes. Like crocuses, these small bulbs grow thin leaves evocative of grass.

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Ornamental Alliums

credit: MrBrownThumb

Ornamental alliums come in a broad variety of colors, heights, and bloom times, but my favorites are the early spring-blooming varieties. These easy-to-grow bulbs add color and height to the garden in early spring when not much else might be growing. I previously posted about growing alliums and mentioned that my favorite was allium 'Purple Sensation' but allium christophii and shubertii, 'Globemaster,' and 'Gladiator' along with smaller varieties like bulgaricum-which has pendulous blooms- I'd also recommend.

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Scilla

credit: MrBrownThumb

Scilla blooms produce great little blooms, which are usually blue, but also come in white, pink, and purple. The flowers emerge in the early spring sometimes before the leaves have emerged and serve to brighten up the landscape. Like with the species tulips in the early slide, scilla is not as widely planted by gardeners, but they should be. I think they compliment the crocus, muscari, and low-growing species tulips quite nicely.

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Snowdrops

credit: Ilona's Garden

The Galanthus genus consists of a relatively small number of bulbs that flower in winter, with some species flowering in early spring and late autumn. My friend at Ilona’s Garden, who grew the bulbs pictured here, reports that these delicate little plants are actually very tough, and survive late spring snows, high winds, and freezes. The named varieties of these bulbs are currently commanding a high-dollar price. Over the past few years there has been snowdrop craze sweeping the UK that is bolstering their popularity here in the U.S. They are certainly beautiful little blooms, and anything that can withstand the cold temperatures of spring deserves a place in the garden.

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Irises

credit: MrBrownThumb

Reticulata irises are bulbous irises that flower in early spring and go dormant in the summer. The pastel-colored blooms are rather impressive given their diminutive bulbs. In the fall you are likely to come across a packaged selection of bulbs at your local garden center and home improvement store that are commonly called Dutch Irises. The iris on the left is one from a package of Dutch Irises I picked up once. In my own garden, these bulbs have only lasted a couple of seasons, but they are worth replanting if you enjoy the blooms. The bearded iris on the left does not grow from a bulb. It grows from a rhizome, but I am including it here because they are one of my favorite early spring flowers. Moreover, to differentiate them from bulbous irises pictured on the left. Bearded irises come in a wide variety of colors, heights and bloom periods and are easy to care for in my experience. In fact, they grow so well that every year I need to divide and replant iris rhizomes in my garden.

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Daffodils

credit: MrBrownThumb

Narcissus is the genus name for the bulbs we commonly call daffodils. While there are several Narcissus species that bloom in the fall, the spring-blooming bulbs are the ones you will commonly find available in packages ready for fall planting. There is a lot of diversity in the bloom color and shape. Some are single colored, some daffodils are single-colored like the daffodil pictured on the right, and some have two colors. There is a lot of variation in the shape and petal count of the blooms themselves. I have a strong preference for miniature daffodils (pictured on the left) because they do not take up much space and their foliage does not look as unsightly as the larger versions when the bulb is going dormant. Planting bulbs in your garden is as easy as digging a hole and plopping them in. They fit a variety of garden styles, soil types, and climates. Yes, it really is that easy to garden with bulbs. Although, I should caution you that growing bulbs can develop into an obsession. Below are some resources that I like to visit when selecting and planting bulbs in my own garden.

Resources: Books, Websites, and Bulb Societies

Pacific Bulb Society-is a good place to start if you are interested in gardening with bulbs. Their volunteer-complied wiki has lots of useful information on all kinds of bulbs. You can also joining the Pacific Bulb Society, which has benefits like seed and bulb exchanges and publishes a quarterly newsletter on bulbs. International Bulb Society- The International Bulb Society, established in 1933, is an international, non-profit, educational and scientific organization that promotes the growing of bulbs. Bulb by Anna Pavord is a really good book on bulbs. You'll find information on all kind of bulbs, not just spring bloomers, and discover many bulbs that you may not have heard of.

Where to Buy Spring-Blooming Bulbs

Vegetables aren't the only heirlooms in the garden world. Bulbs can be heirlooms too and can also be threatened by extinction if they're not grown by gardeners. . To source old fashioned garden bulbs check with Old House Gardens and Chris "The Bulb Hunter" Wiesinger. Frugal gardeners know that besides mailorder and local garden centers they can sometimes find bulbs in bulk at membership stores like Costco. The ALDI grocery chain is also a good source for inexpensive packaged bulbs

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