By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener
Charles Dickens said “Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own”. Who can deny that spring-flowering bulbs are a promise of warmer temperatures and hopeful thoughts? Knowing the bulbs will emerge from the near frozen ground helps us to get through the bitter winter. They should be planted now in order for you to be rewarded with wonderful colour in early spring. They can stay in the ground year after year. There are several varieties of bulbs to choose from. The following are some of the more recognizable ones.
Tulips are to Turkey and Central Asia. In the 1600s, they made their way to the Netherlands. Tulipmania took hold in the 1620s and tulip prices skyrocketed. A single bulb could be worth as much as an average family farm. The market collapsed in 1637, but tulips remain widely grown in the that country. Canadians liberated much of the Netherlands during the final months of the Second World War. More than 7,200 Canadians were lost in that conflict. The Dutch have gifted Canadians with 20,000 bulbs a year since that time and they are used in Ottawa’s now famous Canadian Tulip Festival every May. This year marks the 75th anniversary of liberation and the Dutch royal family will mark the celebration by thanking Canadians this year with a gift of 100,000 tulip bulbs. If you want to join the celebration, you can purchase your own Liberation75 tulips for $15.00 through the Royal Canadian Legion. By purchasing the bulbs, you will also be entitled to win a trip to the Netherlands. To place an order visit the Royal Canadian Legion.
There are hundreds of cultivars of tulips; early, mid and late blooming. They need a sunny location with soil that is well-drained and sheltered from the wind since they can be easily broken. Six weeks are needed for the foliage to die back in order to put energy back into the bulb. A rainy spring is bad for success with tulips. Some of the ‘old fashioned’ tulips are Darwin and Triumph. They are very reliable and come back year after year. Squirrels love tulips, so to deter rodents, mix tulips and daffodils together in order to get the scent of daffodils on the tulips. You can also try hen manure which comes in a pellet form. You could use barberry cuttings or crushed egg shells in and around the hole. Others have had success with plastic snakes. Also, squirrels won’t dig past their peripheral vision, so plant at least 6 – 8” deep. You could also try laying a flat board on top and remove it when the ground is frozen.
Daffodils and narcissus bloom earlier than most tulips. Spring sun is needed and they like soil that is well draining or they will rot. Oxalic acid on the bulb make them unpalatable to rodents. ‘Tete a tete’ is a mini daffodil that is very fragrant and also good for cut flowers. However, never include daffodils with other flowers in a vase as they have a sap that will cause the other flowers to wilt.
Alliums are ornamental onions. Most of the varieties bloom in June. They need free draining soil with 6 to 8 hours of sun. They make lovely dried flowers. It is best to plant alliums amongst other plants as the foliage is not desirable.
Muscari or grape hyacinths are amazing small bulbs known as minor bulbs. Snowdrops are also minor bulbs and are the first to emerge, often pushing up through the snow.
Snow crocus are an early blooming crocus and work well in a lawn as they bloom before you need to cut the grass. Dutch crocus are good for forcing and are bigger than snow crocus and tend to bloom a little later in the spring.
Beware of Scilla or Spanish blue bells! They are a small bulb and multiply prolifically, and although they are very pretty, they now sit on the invasive list. Scilla siberica is on the Highly Invasive category of this list put together by Credit Valley Conservation.
Bulbs can also be planted in pots and put in a cool area over the winter. This way, they can be brought in and forced to bloom early. Who wouldn’t be happy with a large pot of beautiful colour after a long hard winter. More information on forcing spring bulbs can be found in this article by Dugald Cameron in Garden Making Magazine.