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. Think about it: in most cases you shell out less than a buck per bulb and in a few months you wind up with a gorgeous flower that’ll 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 up to a month. As for planting times, I usually start around the first week 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. Best of all, they spread, but in a good way. I also love crocuses, both spring and fall bloomers, and fritillarias. In recent years I’ve grown fond of the alliums for the big, bold statements they make, and the pollinators they attract.

And then there are tulips. There was a time when tulips weren’t my thing, largely because with the exception of the Darwin hybrids, they tend to behave as annuals. But I’ve changed my tune in recent years. After all, even if they don’t come back, they’re so spectacularly beautiful that having the opportunity to enjoy them for a few weeks is better than not enjoying them at all.

There are also lots of so-called lesser or minor bulbs to consider as well, including Alliums, Fritillarias, Galanthus (Snowdrops), Leucojum (Summer Snowflake), Scilla (Siberian Squill), Puschkinia (Squill), and, my favorite, Camassia. If you’re planting bulbs anyway, you really should try a few of these not-so-well-known but beautiful bulbs.