The Beauty of Bulbs

By Paul James

No other plant on the planet gives you more bang for your buck than a single, solitary, spring-flowering bulb, be it a daffodil or a hyacinth or a crocus or whatever. (Yes, I intentionally excluded tulips for the moment – more on them later.)Think about it: in most cases you shell out less than a buck for a gorgeous flower that will return year after year for decades. And in that time all the plant requires is an occasional drink and a light snack.

Spring-flowering bulbs are, in fact, among the most carefree plants you can grow, and they’re pretty much pest and disease free. They’re also a snap to plant with a trowel, mattock, auger bit, or specialty bulb planter. Once you get a rhythm going, you’ll be amazed at how fast you can get them in the ground.

Bulbs typically begin arriving in nurseries a month or so before the ideal planting time, and it pays to shop early to make sure you get what you want. Just store them in the garage in a paper bag and they’ll be fine for a month. As for planting times, I usually start around the middle of October and finish by early November.

And just what do I plant? Well, I’ve always been partial to daffodils. They come in a dizzying array of sizes, colors, and bloom periods, and they’re one of the few bulbs gophers won’t eat. I also love crocuses, especially the fall bloomers, and fritillarias. In recent years I’ve grown fond of the alliums for the big, bold statement they make, and pollinators love their flowers.

As for tulips, well, they aren’t among my favorites, although there’s no denying their beauty. For me, the problem is that they don’t dependably behave as perennials, although some – namely the Darwin hybrids and species tulips – do better than others. However, recent research by the folks at Longwood Gardens suggests that by planting tulip bulbs deeper than usual, as in up to a foot deep, you can get them to return for a few years. I plan on trying that trick this year.

After all, what have I got to lose?