Fishburn, University of Illinois Extension
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[October 29, 2012]
Bulbs can add color to the garden from
February until June. Most gardeners are familiar with the well-known
spring bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, but there are
many more. Early flowering spring bulbs such as snowdrop, winter
aconite, crocus, glory-of-the-snow, netted iris and common grape
hyacinth give us the first signal of spring.
Common snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, are the first bulbs to
be up, emerging in January or February. Growing only to 4 to 6
inches tall, they make a nice edging plant in full sun to shady
areas. Snowdrops have snow-white, bell-shaped hanging flowers. They
should be planted in masses for the best affect.
Eranthis hyemalis, blooms shortly after snowdrops. This
rapidly spreading bulb has yellow flowers supported on 3- to 6-inch
stems. Once planted, the bulbs should not be disturbed. Winter
aconites are attractive interplanted in ground cover and also
combine well with crocuses. Before planting, soak tubers overnight
to increase growth rate.
Crocus, Crocus chrysanthus or Crocus vernus, is
perhaps one of the most popular small bulbs. Crocuses look great
naturalized in grassy areas or planted at the front of a flower bed.
Many varieties are available, offering a large color selection,
including yellow, white and violet-white striped. Crocuses do well
in full sun or partial shade.
Glory-of-the-snow, Chionodoxa luciliae, blooms before the
leaves fully develop, allowing eyes to focus on the flower. Use in
low ground cover, as a border or in a rock garden. While the
majority of the bulbs available are blue with splashes of white,
there are also pink and white forms. Glory-of-the-snow blooms from
March to April.
Netted iris, Iris reticulate, grows best in a full-sun
location. This early spring bloomer grows 3 to 9 inches tall. Violet
purple, blue or white fragrant flowers appear in very early spring.
Grape hyacinth, Muscari sp., is a great accent plant that
combines well with other spring flowering perennials and bulbs. Blue
or white flower clusters resemble a bunch of grapes. If planted in
large masses, grape hyacinths make a beautiful blue blanket of
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Selecting a good-quality bulb for planting is important. Bulbs
should be firm and have a protective papery skin. They should be
free from soft or rotting spots, cuts, mold or other signs of
disease. Generally the larger the bulb, the bigger the flower.
While early October is the best time to plant spring bulbs,
planting can be done until the soil freezes. Select a garden
location that has a rich, well-drained soil
The general rule of thumb for planting spring bulbs is to plant
two to three times as deep as the bulb is tall. (Planting depth is
measured form the bottom of the bulb.) This means most large bulbs,
such as tulips or daffodils, will be planted 6 to 8 inches deep,
while smaller bulbs will be planted about 3 to 4 inches deep. When
planting bulbs, incorporate bone meal or superphosphate in the soil
below where the bulbs will be so the fertilizer can be used.
Bulbs may be incorporated in the landscape almost anywhere except
under evergreens, such as pine trees, or other dense shade areas.
Sunlight is needed to trigger proper growth in the spring. Light is
also needed for the period after flowering when the foliage
manufactures food to be stored in the bulb for the following year's
growth cycle. A good rule of thumb is to plant bulbs of one variety
or color in a mass, as this will have greater visual impact. The
more bulbs planted together of one variety and color, the greater
Plant bulbs now for a surprise in the spring. For more
information on bulb basics and descriptions of various spring bulbs,
visit the University of Illinois Extension Bulbs & More website at
[By JENNIFER FISHBURN, horticulture
University of Illinois Extension, Logan-Menard-Sangamon Unit]