Documents: Special Interest: Beginning the Garden:

Landscaping With Spring Flowering Bulbs
by Chris Biesheuvel
by Chris Biesheuvel


Chris Biesheuvel a retired Horticulturist from McKenzie Seeds in Brandon Manitoba.

Chris is active in the Lethbridge Horticultural Society. He owns Dutch Touch garden consulting business.

His flower photography is well known. Lately Chris is promoting the health effects from gardening in writing and in speaking engagements.

October 30, 2006

Spring flowering bulbs are virtually essential for a gorgeous spring garden, September, October and in milder climates November is the time to plan and to plant your garden for next spring. By planting different types of bulbs you can prolong the blooming time of spring flowering bulbs to approximately 10 to 12 weeks. Although all spring flowering bulbs are fine for naturalizing the following group is the most reliable for naturalizing.

The first choice is the Galanthus better known as Snowdrop. Plant them in your rock garden, underneath shrubs or trees or in the lawn, and spring after spring you will enjoy their charming beauty. They are the first ones to show their small bell–shaped white flowers with green spots. The Galanthus is hardy zone 3; over the years it will multiply to form beautiful groups. Plant 5 inches 12 cm deep and 2 inches – 5 cm apart.

The next step is to plant Crocus bulbs, the Crocus together with the Daffodils, Hyacinths and Tulips belong to the most popular spring flowering bulbs. They come in a wide assortment of colors, plant the bulbs in clusters of the different colors and let them multiply into an amazing color carpet. The Crocus vernus is always my choice probably due to their common name Dutch Crocus. The crocus can be planted in the lawn, under shrubs and trees or in rock gardens or in borders. The Crocus is hardy zone 3, plant the bulbs 5 inches – 12 cm deep and1 inch 2.5 cm apart.

For your rock garden or border you must have the Muscari or Grape Hyacinth. This bulb naturalizes very quickly, for mass planting this is one of the greatest varieties. In the Netherlands they have the famous Keukenhof garden and they have a mass planting of the Grape Hyacinths between and underneath trees and shrubs, the effect is spectacular and called the Blue River. This plant is hardy zone 3, plant the bulbs 5 inches – 12 cm deep and 1 to 2 inches apart 2.5 to 5 cm.

A great one for naturalizing is the Tulip Tarda, Native to Turkestan, it multiplies very rapidly into a beautiful group with star shaped yellow with a white edge flowers on top of bright green foliage. Early flowering and hardy to zone 2, planting depth 3 to 4 inches 7 to 10 cm planting distance 2 inches 5 cm.

The Scilla Siberica will provide the most beautiful blue in your garden with their tiny little flowers they will bring the most lively color into your spring garden. They are great as border plants, in rock gardens as mass planting in front of shrubs or trees or mixed with large groups of other early spring bulbs. This native bulb of Siberia and Caucasus is hardy zone 2, plant height 4 to 5 inches, 10 to 12 cm. Planting depth 5 inches, 12.5 cm and planting distance 1 inch, 2.5 cm. The Scilla is also excellent for naturalizing.

For late spring flowering the Alliums are the best choice, special the Allium molly and ostrophilum, interplant the two Allium varieties and enjoy their abundance of color. Both varieties bloom at the same time, grow approximately 6 to 8 inches, 15 to 20 cm tall, plant the bulbs 5 inch, 12.5 cm. deep and 2 to 3 inches, 5 to 7.5 cm apart in a sunny location, in rock gardens as mass planting for ground cover or as border plants. The Alliums are native to Asia and the Middle East and excellent for naturalizing, hardy zone 3.

Cyclamineus Narcissus Tete a Tete. This tiny trumpet like Narcissus is great for naturalizing, it blooms early spring at the same time as the Crocus and Muscari. A real show winner with lemon-yellow trumpet like flowers. Plant height 6 to 8 inches, 15 to 20 cm. planting depth 5 inches,12.5 cm., planting distance 2 inches, 5 cm. apart, and hardy zone 3. This variety is also excellent for indoor forcing.

With all the above-mentioned bulbs you can create many seasons of an abundance of flowers as the bulbs multiply and spread, a dream for the little or no care gardener. Be well aware that when you want the bulbs to naturalize then you should give the leaves of the bulbs the opportunity to build up food reserve for next year blooming. This means that they should not be cut off until the leaves have turned yellow. Landscaping with some perennials around your bulbs will help you to cover the sight of leaves of the bulbs turning slowly yellow. It is also important to take out all spent flowers so that all the energy of the plant goes back into the bulb.

The following bulbs are not quite as hardy, and a mulch of 2 to 3 inches, 5 to 7.5 cm is recommended in zones 1 to 3. Tulips, Daffodils and Hyacinth bulbs must be planted to a depth of 8 inches, 20 cm.

Narcissi bulbs belong to group that also can be used successfully for naturalizing. It is a great group of bulbs well suited to plant in mass in fields or beds, but also in rock gardens and borders. There are many varieties in different shapes and forms the Royal Horticultural Association of London UK classified the Narcissi in 12 different groups. The most popular group is the Daffodil. A large Daffodil bulb can produce 2 to 3 flowers; they come in yellow, white pink and bicolors. This is the most ideal bulb for landscaping in borders and beds. Plant the larger bulbs 8 to 10 inches 20 to 25 cm deep and the smaller bulbs 5 to 6 inches 12 to 15 cm deep. And 3 inches 7.5 cm apart for the larger bulbs and 1 inch 2.5 cm apart for the smaller bulbs. Most of them are hardy zone 3 although is some colder climates zones or in places with a lack of snow a good mulch is recommended.

Tulips Carolus Clusius, well known botanist, was probably the first man who imported and introduced the tulip to the botanical gardens in Leiden South Holland the Netherlands, this happens more than 400 years ago and since that time the tulip is the most important group for any spring garden. Today there are several tulip varieties from single early to double late. The Royal Horticultural Association has classified in 1981 the tulips in 14 different groups, the most popular ones are the Darwin hybrids, and they are easy to grow, have perfect shaped flowers on top of strong stems. For a stunning effect inter plant some of the Darwin Apeldoorn with the Golden Apeldoorn. Beside the Darwin’s the peony, the Triumph, the Single early, the Lily, the Single late flowering and the Kaufmanniana tulips are very popular by the home gardeners.

The Single early tulips have single flowers - one flower with six petals, the plant grows 8 to 10 inches, 20 to 25 cm tall, they are great for early colors in borders, beds and some varieties are good for rock gardens. They are the oldest strain after the wild tulips.

The Triumph tulips grow medium tall 10 to 16 inches, 25 to 40 cm depending on the variety. They bloom with cup shaped flowers in the middle of the tulip season on strong stems, they are great in beds and borders, and are excellent flowers for cutting.

Single Late tulips come in a wide range of cross breeds, they all have tall stems 14 to 30 inches, 35 to 75 cm depending on the variety. They are late flowering bulbs and great in mass plantings (plant the bulbs 3 inches, 7.5 cm apart) in group plantings of 5 to 7 bulbs in a flowerbed. A beautiful combination is inter-planting of the purple black Queen of the Night with the gold yellow Golden harvest or the ivory-white Maureen tulip.

The peony tulips or double late flowering tulips - the name indicates it all it are late flowering and grow approximately 15 inches, 37.5 cm tall, Their huge double flowers are quite similar to the well known peony flower, they are very effective in any border. This tulip is also a great cut flower especially when cut just as they start to open.

Confusing is the fact that some mail order houses and even some garden centers sell the double early tulips also as Peony flowering tulips, indeed the flower is double but not as big as the double late, they are the first one to bloom, their fragrant blooms grow on short sturdy stems 8 to 12 inches- 20 to 30 cm. A mass planting of the double early tulips will provide you with a gorgeous carpet of color.

Another must for the spring garden are the adorable Lily flowering tulips, their point shaped elegant flowers resemble somewhat the lily, they are excellent for mass planting, and beds. This late season blooming variety is an outstanding attraction in the garden, especially the varieties West point (yellow) or the bright violet with white edge Ballade. The lily flowering tulip can grow up tp 30 inches, 75-cm. for mass planting the bulbs must be planted 2 inches, 5 cm apart.

The Kaufmanniana, Fosteriana and Greigi tulips are also known as botanical tulips. They are early blooming and come in a wide variety of colors and shapes, some of the best known varieties are Red Riding Hood, Golden Emperor and Plaisir, the variety Plaisir have spotted foliage contrasting nicely against the carmine red white edged flowers.

Hyacinths, ideal for your garden, highly valued for its pleasant fragrance, early flowering, easy to grow, average plant height 8 to 10 inches, 20 to 25 cm, hardy zone 3. This classic flower looks great in the spring garden when planted in groups of three or five of one variety. The most popular varieties are Delft Blue, Pink Pearl, Hollyhock (carmine red), white pearl and the bright yellow city of Haarlem. Hyacinths are also easy to force indoors .Be sure always to buy the biggest bulb size available for forcing. The sizes 15/16 and 16/17 are excellent for planting outdoors. Why do you need bigger bulbs for the hyacinths, well it is proven that bigger bulbs produce bigger and more compact flowers.

For spring flowering bulbs you need a well drained soil, with a pH around 6 to 7. At gardencentres you can buy all kind of kits to test your soil pH. The most ideal time for to plant the spring flowering bulbs is in the fall when the soil temperatures drop around the 60 degree F that is 16 degree C. In the bottom of the planting hole you should work some bonemeal through the soil. Bonemeal is rich in phosphorus that helps the plant to develop their roots and a strong root system gives healthy plants. Mix some slow release fertilizer through the soil that you want to use to fill up the planting hole; blends recommended for this are the Gaia Green All purpose blend or the Holland Bulb Booster. Fill the planting holes for one-third with the fertilizer soil mixture and water thoroughly. Finish filling the planting holes with the remaining soil fertilizer mixture and water again. The next step is to bring on a good mulch recommended is a mulch of 2 to 3 inches, 5 to 7.5 cm. Mulching is very important, it keeps the moisture levels and it prevents the soil from changing temperatures.

In the spring give one tablespoon of Gaia Green All Purpose blend or Bulb Booster per square foot as soon as the noses of the bulbs break the ground in the spring. After the bulbs finish flowering cut off the faded bloom and allow the foliage to go slowly in dormancy until they wake up the next spring to provide you with an abundance of color.

Happy Gardening!


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