Is there anything more indicative of spring than the sudden bloom of crocuses, daffodils, tulips, and all the other spring-flowering bulbs? The problem is that plans for this "impromptu" display have to be made four to six months in advance, and that means now, in autumn.

Start by thinking about where you need some early spring color. That's where your garden binder comes in handy, with its pictures of your garden in springtime. (See "An Organized Garden.") Your notes and pictures will tell you where there are open areas in your beds and what colors are around them, so you can coordinate new plantings with existing ones.

There are lots of good choices in spring-flowering bulbs:

Tulips
There are a gazillion different types of tulips, including some fragrant ones, so you'll need to spend some time with a catalog. Look for a combination of late, mid-, and early blooms to extend the flowering period.

One trick with tulips is to replant the same colors in the same bed year after year, to make up for bulbs that don't come back. Nothing beats a bed of red and yellow tulips for a bit of drama. Try some of the double or peony tulips for extra interest.

Just remember that if there are deer in your area, tulips are like caviar to them!

Daffodils
These are the workhorses of spring-flowering blooms. They're available in a large variety of colors and bloom times. I like to plant large masses, with hundreds of bulbs, for great impact. When you plant en masse you can snip a few for inside and not miss them. Buy varieties that "naturalize" — they grow and flower year after year without replanting.

More choices are:

Scilla: These early flowering bulbs come in blues, pinks, and whites, and they naturalize well.

Crocus: They're early flowering, come in an array of colors, and are good for forcing. They, too, naturalize well.

Muscari: These long-lasting flowers bloom in April and May and are good for forcing. They also naturalize.

Hyacinth: An early (April) bloomer, the hyacinth comes in an array of colors and is good for forcing.

For dramatic presentation, try:

Fritillaria: an early bloomer with many stems per bulb, available in an array of colors.

Allium: flowers from May to August, with some reaching 48 inches tall. A good cut flower.

Basic Rules for Planting Bulbs


1. Bulbs don't like wet soil. Plant in well-draining sandy loam.
2. Add a good bulb fertilizer to the bottom of the hole and scratch it in before you plant the bulbs. Be careful using bone meal, as it can attract rodents.
3. Don't plant shallow! Follow the instructions on the package, but the general rule is to plant two to two and a half times deep as the bulb is tall.

Suggestions for Ordering Bulbs


  • Some companies group different varieties of bulbs, with different bloom times, and sell them as a package. That can be a helpful alternative to selecting individual bulbs and hoping they'll work together as nicely as you think they will.

  • When you're ordering, get a few bulbs for forcing indoors. Try Paper White Narcissus and Amaryllis.

  • If you have a small garden, or plant in containers, try ordering bulbs for a "bulb sandwich" — layer an early bloomer on top of a mid-season on top of a late bloomer and enjoy an extended season. Try May-blooming Narcissus at the bottom, with April- and May-blooming tulips above them, topped with March-blooming crocus.

    The time spent planning and planting now will be well worth it next spring when your garden explodes with color!

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