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Thursday, Oct. 20, 2005 01:56 pm

Plant your spring surprise now

Don't get fixated on just tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths

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Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis)
Bulbs are a good way to add color to the garden from Feburary into June. Most gardeners are familiar with such spring bulb flowers as the tulip, daffodil, and hyacinth, but there are many more to choose from. Often the first sign of spring is the appearance of snowdrops, winter aconite, crocuses, glory-of-the-snow, netted irises, or the common grape hyacinth. The common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) is the first bulb to flower, emerging in January or February. Growing just 4 to 6 inches tall, this flower makes a nice edging plant almost anywhere, from full-sun to shady areas. Snowdrop bulbs should be planted en masse to get the best effect of their snow-white, bell-shaped hanging flowers. Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) blooms shortly after the snowdrop. This rapidly spreading bulb has yellow flowers supported on 3- to 6-inch stems. Once planted, the bulbs should not be disturbed. Winter aconite is attractive interplanted in ground cover and also works well with crocuses. Before planting the tubers, soak them overnight to increase their growth rate. The crocus (Crocus chrysanthus or Crocus vernus), looks great naturalized in grassy areas or planted at the front of a flowerbed. Many varieties are available, with a wide color selection. Crocuses do well in full sun or partial shade. Glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa luciliae) blooms before the leaves have fully developed, allowing the eye to focus on the flower. Use this plant in low ground cover, as a border, or in a rock garden. Though most bulbs produce blue flowers with splashes of white, pink and white varieties are also available. Glory-of-the-snow blooms from March into April. The early-spring-blooming netted iris (Iris reticulate) grows best in full sun and reaches a height of 3 to 9 inches and produces fragrant violet, blue, or white flowers. Grape hyacinth (Muscari sp.) is a great accent plant that works well with other spring-flowering perennials and bulbs. Blue or white flower clusters resemble bunches of grapes, hence the name. Planted en masse, grape hyacinths produce a beautiful blanket of color. It’s important to select a quality bulb. Bulbs should be firm, with a protective papery skin, and free from soft or rotting spots, cuts, mold, or other signs of disease. Generally the larger the bulb, the bigger the flower. Although early October is the best time to plant spring bulbs, you may plant them until the soil freezes. Select a location with rich, well-drained soil. Spring bulbs should be planted two to three times as deep as the bulb is tall. (Planting depth is measured from the bottom of the bulb.) Most large bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils, should be planted 6 to 8 inches deep; smaller bulbs are usually planted 3 to 4 inches deep. Incorporate bone meal or superphosphate in the soil beneath the bulbs to nourish the plants. Bulbs may be incorporated in the landscape almost anywhere except under evergreens or other heavily shaded 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 next year’s growth cycle. Plant bulbs now for a surprise in the spring. For more information, visit the University of Illinois Extension’s “Bulbs and More” Web page, www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/bulbs/index.html.
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