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Tag: Bulbs

Liatris spicata – Blazing Star

Liatris spicata is also known as Gayfeather, Blazing Star or Button Snakeroot

About two feet tall and hardy to zone 3, this native plant is easy, does not require watering, and is attractive to butterflies and pollinators.  Its violet flowering stalks are attractive in the summer garden featuring rounded fluffy blooms topping clumps of grassy foliage. The seed heads are also beautiful later in the season.  Just cut them if you don’t want seedlings or leave them for the birds if you don’t mind having more.


Allium Caeruleum – Blue Onion

Daylily Mateus, rudbeckia and Allium Caeruleum1Alliums are bulbs that can naturalize, but in most cases are not considered invasive. This one is from Siberia so it will do well here in Wisconsin. They are about 18” tall sporting 1 1/2” globes, and will bloom in late May/early June. The sky blue flowers are a magnet for bees and butterflies, and are not loved by deer. They like full sun and will tolerate drought. They will self-sow so remove the flower heads to keep numbers down. The onion-like leaves show up first, and then die back when they flower. Yes, you can eat them like a chive.

This is for 6 bulbs.


More Early Spring Bulbs

I talked about my favorite early spring bulbs on Sunday. Since then the snow is melting and the sun has come out. They are so cute that I just had to show you some more. This is a gallery so just click on one of the photos and then click in the grey area when you are finished.

To read the article that goes with these pictures click here.

Read about two of my favorite spring flowers: heartsease and pasque flower.

Early Spring Flowers

Crocus yellow (5)1I’m up early on Easter morning. The snow outside makes it seem like it is still winter, but I’m dreaming of warm, soft breezes and signs of spring.

After the winter it’s natural to look toward the rebirth of spring. Many consider the crocus to be the first spring flower, but there are lots of little bulbs that bloom even earlier.

These little bulbs are sometimes called the “minor bulbs”. They are usually very small. But they can be just as effective as the larger flowering bulbs that come later, like tulips and daffodils. The key is to plant them in mass. Sometimes just one or two here and there are nice too; kind of a little surprise when you take the time to look.

Snowdrops (2)1Little beauties like crocus, snowdrops, glory of the snow and early spring iris are especially important because they give the gardener that little reminder that “spring is coming”, when they need it the most. They effectively extend the season to a time that, here in Wisconsin, sometimes even still has snow on the ground giving us a “jump on spring”.

Just like the later blooming daffodils, the little spring bulbs needed to be purchased and planted in fall. There is always next year; my favorite garden saying. Really, you can plant them any time up until the ground freezes. I think they are easier to plant than the large bulbs because they don’t have to go down as deep, usually about 3 or 4 inches. You can even plant them on top of the other bulbs to save garden space.

Crocus with snow (3)1The biggest mistake that I have made with these little gems is not getting them uncovered early enough. We live in a maple grove so we get a very thick layer of maple leaves in the garden. If you don’t get the leaves off early enough the little cuties will bloom under the leaves and you will never see them. Or, if they do manage to poke their little heads through the leaves they will become spindly and won’t last as long. If you then decide to get the leaves off, when you remember them, you will sadly end up tearing them apart. In recent years I have made a better attempt to get most of the leaves off in fall. It’s a good excuse to get out there and get some exercise. You have to do it sooner or later, and really, don’t you have enough to do in spring? Then in spring it is an easier clean up, really just a touch up to get the ones that blew in over the winter, and you can concentrate on the areas where you know the little bulbs are coming….that is if they aren’t still covered with snow.

Snowdrops with snow (5)1Speaking of snow, don’t worry if they get dumped on. They are used to it and they can take both snow and cold temps. They just close up and wait until the sun comes out again.

Early spring bulbs enjoy sunlight, but it will be fine if you plant them under deciduous trees because they will not have leaves at this time of year.

One other thing to remember; just like the bigger bulbs, don’t remove the foliage when they are done blooming. They need this to store energy for next year. Don’t worry; the rest of your garden will start to grow and you will forget all about them. If you have your bulbs naturalized in the grass, wait a week or two longer to mow the first time. Your spring bulbs will reward you for it. Many times when planting another perennial I dig them up by accident. This is not a problem, just replant them. It probably will help increase them as after they have been in the ground for a few years they tend to grow in clumps.  This way you can divide them.

So let’s look more closely at some of my favorite “minor bulbs”:

  • Scilla mischtschenkoana (2)1Glory-of-the-snow -Chionodoxa luciliae

Glory-of-the-snow comes in blue, white and pink. They are very hardy (zone 3 to 8) and are perfect for naturalizing, along the edge of the border or in rock gardens. The flowers are star shaped with a white or light yellow center. Bloom time is usually late March here in Wisconsin and they only grow to about 4 to 5 inches. The white and pink varieties will be a little taller; up to 8 inches.

  • Snowdrop – Galanthus nivalis


Snowdrops1Snowdrops seem to be on their own schedule. If you get a warm snap they may bloom earlier some years than others. Further south they may bloom in January but it is usually late February or March “up-north”. The stems of the common variety are about 4 inches but there are also some slightly bigger varieties. They have solitary, drooping, white flowers with green spots. Plant them near a walk or on a raised bed. Somewhere that you will notice them popping through the snow. It is amazing to see these frosty-white beauties on a sunny, but still cold and snowy afternoon.

  • Dwarf Iris 

There are lots of types of Dwarf Iris and most of them do grow in early spring; some earlier than others. The genus “Iris” was the name of the Greek goddess of the rainbow. I’ll briefly tell you about some of my favorites. As with most early spring flowers they are small; some only 3 inches and most under 8 inches.

Iris cristata is one that steals my heart. This is a native wildflower that spreads by undergrIris Cristata1ound rhizomatous stems. There are different varieties ranging slightly in size and they come in colors from purple to blue to white. They have yellow crested markings…so cute, and are super hardy and carefree. The rhizomes should be planted near or at the surface just like their larger cousins. Mimic their natural wooded habitat, which includes moist, well-draining soil and iris cristata will be happy. Adding a little leaf mold will make them sing.

Iris Reticulata (2)1Iris reticulata is another cute easy to grow miniature iris. These little ones can be purple, white or yellow. Their foliage is grassy. It will grow a little taller after the flowers fade. Lightly-scented flowers are usually violet to purple, although white, yellow, and light-blue cultivars are available. Foliage is delicate and grassy. They multiply rapidly and are excellent for rock gardens and sunny borders. The reticulated iris group consists of a number of small bulbous irises whose bulbs have netted or reticulate bulb coverings (tunics) on the dry bulbs. All species of Katherine Hodgkin Iris1reticulated iris are native to western Asia. Iris reticulata (purple) and Iris danfordiae (yellow) are two of most commonly known species in the reticulated group. My favorite from this group ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ is a reticulated iris hybrid, whose parents are Iris winogradowii (pale yellow flowers) and Iris histrioides (pale blue flowers). Intricately marked pale blue flowers of this hybrid have distinctive deep blue veining with a purple-spotted yellow blotch at the base of each fall. This hybrid was introduced in 1958 by E. B. Anderson and named after the wife of rare bulb enthusiast Eliot Hodgkin. These bulbs tend to generally decline for me. I think there are 2 possible reasons. First many of them, including Katherine, are listed as zone 5. They do however live through the winter and multiply in many years. Or, possibly it is because they don’t like to be wet in summer. They like it moist in spring but then need dry conditions or they will not multiply.

Miniature Dwarf Bearded Iris (MDB) is another favorite of mine. Though they are not really common, there are hundreds of varieties. This is one of the more recent things that I have been collecting, so watch for them to become available from Catrina’s Garden in future years. They are just like the large Standard Dwarf Bearded Iris except that they grow no taller than 8 inches and bloom earlier. Some are only 2 inches tall. Here in WI they bloom in late March or early April. MDB iris does best in climates that are cold in the winter. They are great in rock gardens or raised beds. It is nice to have them raised a bit so that you can smell them, because many of them are fragrant. Here are some of my new babies (click on a picture to see a slide show then click in the gray area to return):

  • Crocus

Crocus Purple 121Crocuses are among one of the most popular of the early spring bloomers. There are many different species and cultivars but there are 3 main groups: C. chrysanthus (Golden Crocus), C. vernus (Dutch Crocus) and the third group is varied types of botanic species crocus. There are Crocus species that flower in autumn also. This is the type of crocus that saffron comes from. Golden crocus are very small and flower the earliest. Dutch crocus have larger flowers that are later and tend to be more pastel. This is the most common type. They naturalize nicely, or can be grown in the rock garden or somewhere that you will see them often. Crocus come in a wide range of colors from different shades of purple, blues, pinks, Crocus White (4)1whites and yellows. There are even striped crocus. The foliage is grass like and some species have a silver strip down the center of each blade. They are actually corms rather than bulbs. Be sure to plant them with the point up and the roots down. Well actually even if you plant them upside down they will adjust. Crocuses love cold climates like zones 3 to 7 and will not do well where it is hotter. They like to be in the sun and will actually close up when it is cloudy. They do best in a sandy or gritty soil; something that will drain well. Animals like voles and mice will sometimes eat crocus. If you have a problem with this planting them away from the house or in areas without a lot of cover may help. Some people that have real problems with this put them inside little wire cages under the ground.

  • Siberian Squill – Scilla Siberic1Siberian Squill – Scilla SibericScilla is one of the earliest spring flowers to bloom. Flowering for a remarkably long time they bear clusters of bloom spikes that offer scented deep, true blue nodding bell shaped flowers. Theay are exquisite when planted under spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, azaleas, rhododendrons, and magnolias. They are also one of the easiest bulbs to naturalize because the foliage matures quickly and is not as sensitive to mowing. They will eventually form large drifts in your lawn because they multiply by seed as well as the little bulbs producing offshoots. They tolerate more shade and a wider range of soil conditions also. You may find them popping up in unexpected places once they are established in your landscape because birds spread the seed.

Crocus with snow (2)1This time of year it seems we can have it all. I enjoy skiing and our ski hill here is still open, and the conditions are amazingly good, but we can also enjoy these little “signs of spring”; just about the time that we begin to think that winter will never end.


More pics of Early Spring Bulbs,

Two more early spring beauties: Heartsease and Pasque Flower

Promise of Spring – Start Now!

Layering Bulbs – Small garden or no garden – No Problem!

Tulips and daffodils are what most people think of when they talk about spring bulbs, but there are so many more to choose from.  Most bulbs require very little root space so they can be planted quite densely and thus are perfect for those that have small gardens. They also don’t take up a lot of space in the garden once they are growing because most die back after blooming and have tall straight stems. Because flowers are generally pretty large and showy compared to the amount of foliage, you get a lot of bang for your garden space buck. In a one to two square foot hole you can get a patch that will flower from early spring well into summer.

First step; pick your bulbs. Usually but not always bigger bulbs will have bigger flowers and little bulbs; you guessed it smaller flowers. The bigger ones generally, but not always bloom later. So, even if you don’t know the exact bloom time for your bulbs you can be pretty safe planting the bigger ones on the bottom and decreasing the size as you move up in your layers. Do your research on bloom time if you want to be sure that you will always have something in bloom.  There are many different bulbs that could be included but the main categories are:

• Lilies and Alliums (for summer bloom)
• Narcissi and Tulips (for spring bloom)
• Muscari, Scilla, Iris reticulata, Crocus and other early spring bulbs
These are the “classic” bulbs that are used but please; check out your catalogs for some more unusual offerings!

You don’t have to use all of these layers; just two layers would also be fine. Layering also works great over a larger area. You can mix and match your bulbs however you like…be creative. If you use 2 different types of tulips (for example) in a layer, you may lengthen your bloom time a little bit. Do use your “design sense” however. If you use too many different things in one area things can look a little bit chaotic.  Oriental-lily-Loreto

How many bulbs should you buy?  You have to think about if you care about next year’s show, or what you will see in 3 or 4 years. How often do you want to dig it up and redo it? Plant more to get a great show the first year, and less if you want to take the lazy way out and not have to dig them up so soon do to overcrowding. Here are some approximate numbers.  In a 2 square foot hole you could fit, about 5 lilies, 7-12 daffodils, tulips or alliums (or any combination of them) and 20-30 small bulbs. The size of the bulbs is also important. You can fit fewer big top size bulbs than small offsets…duh.
What colors should you use? Well, what colors do you like? Work with the colors of other things in your garden. Too many colors can cause the eye to jump around. Usually you don’t have to worry about this however because your bulbs will be blooming at different times.
All of your plants don’t have to be bulbs.  It is fine to use a ground cover such as a quick-growing annual or low growing perennial in the top layer.  Some ideas of things to use here are parsley, alyssum, creeping sedums, creeping veronicas.  These ground covers serve 3 purposes; they add beauty to your planting in-between the flowering of the bulbs, they “mulch” the soil, conserving moisture and preventing weeds, and they can help to hide the foliage of the bulbs when they are done.
Layering bulbs is similar to making lasagna.  Layers of drainage material, bulbs, soil and ground covers or mulch are used instead of sauce and noodles.

The first step is to find a bare spot in the garden.  Check out your perennials in the summer and mark the spot as it can be difficult to remember in fall when the perennials are finished.  Since you will be planting densely the spot really does have to be empty of other plants to begin with.
Another benefit of planting all of your bulbs in one spot is that it will be easy to find them in fall when you want to divide them.  Scilla-mischtschenkoana
Here is your step by step “How To”:
• Dig a deep hole at least 12″ but 14″ is better and at least 16-18″ wide (remember you can use a larger area). The hole does not have to be perfectly round.  An irregular sized hole will give you a more natural appearance.
• Remove the soil and mix it with lots of good compost and add any organic or other fertilizer that you choose to use. Move the soil mixture into a bucket.
• Place some drainage material like coarse sand in the bottom of the hole, 1-3 inches is good depending on how sandy or clay-like your soil is.
• Next fill in about 2-3″ of the soil mixture.
• Now you can start to plant. Large bulbs go first. Cover with about 2″ of your soil mix.White-Tulip
• Next plant mid-sized bulbs. You try to fit them in between the bulbs below but don’t worry, emerging shoots of the lower layer bulbs just bend around anything they hit sitting over their heads and keep on growing.  Again cover with 2″ of your soil mix.
• Then plant the smallest bulbs that are also the earliest blooming. Finally cover with the last of your soil mix. It should be about 2 more inches and the ground should be level.
• After the blooms have faded, be sure to let the foliage die back naturally because this is how bulbs build up their strength for next year. It is okay to remove the flower stalks when they are finished to keep the garden looking tidy. You can also remove old foliage when it starts to yellow. It is green foliage that is nourishing the bulb for next year. It’s okay to bend it down a little if you don’t like the way that it looks.
• Water a little more often in the first weeks after you plant your bulbs to help them form their roots.
Please be careful when removing foliage from bulbs or picking cut flowers.  Many bulbs especially daffodils, tulips and hyacinths can cause severe contact dermatitis in susceptible individuals. Wear gloves and be very careful not to drip the sap from the stems on your skin.  Many workers in the bulb industry will tell you that “lily itch” is no fun.

Don’t worry; certain bulbs may be planted a little deeper than they would if you just planted them by themselves. The stuff in the hole will provide better protection winter heaving and at worst they will bloom a little later than your neighbor’s.

Daffodil-tazetta-Canary-BirdMany people also use bulbs for layering in containers.  This makes a beautiful display for your porch or patio.  Here are some things to remember about planting bulbs in containers.
• The bulbs can touch each other but should not touch the sides of the container.
• In Wisconsin even hardy bulbs will probably not survive the winter in containers.  You will have to either say good-bye to them or plant them in the ground.
• Bulbs like tulips and daffodils need a period of cold to bloom so either put them in the refrigerator or you can try putting the whole pot in a very cold but not freezing garage or basement.
• This is a perfect way to use bulbs that are not hardy in our area like elephant ears, cannas, callas, caladiums, and tubers like dahlias.  Once the display is finished you can put the entire pot in a cool dark place in your basement and bring it out in spring.  This works best if you have a sunny place indoors where you can bring them out and get them going before the season starts.
• Bulbs in containers will need extra fertilizer.
• Your contained bulbs will eventually outgrow your pot; some quicker than others, and you will have to replant.
• Planting in a pot is a great idea for certain bulbs that are sometimes eaten by rodents like crocus, and tulips.
• Make sure your pots have drainage holes (very important) and add additional drainage material in the bottom of the pot.
• It’s not a good idea to leave valuable clay or ceramic pots outside.  Freeze thaw cycles can crack them or cause them to flake.  Cement or plastic pots are fine outside over the winter.

Happy planting!



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