Quick: name a flower that instantly makes you think of spring. Got it?
We bet your choice included daffodils, tulips, or crocus. There’s good reason for that, and it’s because these flowers, along with fellow bloomers like hyacinth and allium, are some of the earliest to emerge as the ground thaws from a long winter.
They’ve got something else in common, too. They all come from bulbs, typically planted the previous fall, just waiting for the faintest sign of spring to emerge and delight us with a fresh burst of color.
Spring bulbs are special, because not only do they come to life earlier than most other flowers and greenery, but they do well in chilly (even downright cold) weather, aren’t particular about soil, and can grow anywhere from full sun to part shade.
In fact, if you’ve ever walked past a vacant lot, wild wooded area, or even an abandoned home or retail location, you’re likely to see these beauties peeking through the ground and doing just fine on their own.
In this Spotlight series, we explore seasonal plants for their beauty and multi-sensory delights. Today, we’re honoring spring bulbs, those cheerful blossoms that welcome spring even as the rest of the landscape remains dormant.
What Makes A Bulb A Bulb?
By the time we reach kindergarten, most of us are familiar with planting seeds. From tiny apple seeds in paper cups, to dried beans sprouted in paper towels, and even avocado pits suspended with toothpicks above a glass of water, our parents and teachers have provided us with the means to try our gardening skills.
Bulbs, however, can remain a mystery. But there are some fascinating differences worth understanding, all of which make bulbs special and unique. Seeds, for instance, are produced through fertilization – not entirely unlike human babies! It requires an interaction between male and female plant parts through the process of pollination. The result is a seed – a plant embryo that contains the food source and shared genetic material to create a new plant. In essence, seeds are the babies of plants.
Bulbs have an entirely different origin story. Bulbs are formed when plant cells divide, creating a copy of the parent plant. A bulb is genetically identical to its single parent, making it a plant clone! Reproduction doesn’t rely on pollination, and a bulb is not just an embryo – rather, it contains the entire, if immature, plant within its papery outer skin.
This unique characteristic means that bulbs are reliable self-propagaters, producing identical replicas of themselves over and over, year after year, with little to no help whatsoever. And it’s exactly why you can see these springtime blooms literally sprout up everywhere, whether there is a tended garden or not.
But don’t worry – as prolific as these flowers are, they’re not invasive and won’t take over your garden.
Care & Maintenance
Considering their long, happy, self-reliant lives as clones, it’s possible to simply leave these lovely flowers to their own devices and enjoy the result. But there are still things to know about planting and encouraging growth to maximize their beauty and your enjoyment.
Spring-blooming bulbs should be planted in fall. Here in New Jersey, that typically means late October and November. It also matters *how* you plant them. A pointed end should be placed at the top, roots at the bottom of a planting hole.
As a general guideline, think in rules of three – the hole should be about three times as deep as the bulb’s height, and the distance between bulbs should be about three bulb-widths as measured from the center of each bulb.
The important thing to remember here is that since not all bulbs are the same size, not all bulbs should be planted at the same depth. This is a shift in thinking from planting seeds, which you typically lay in a trough in neat rows. As for distance between, that can also depend in part on the type of display you want to achieve.
The good news is that bulbs are forgiving in many ways. They can easily be transplanted in fall if you want to move them closer together, farther apart, or experiment with the aesthetic of your display.
While bulbs can flourish in a wide variety of conditions, the best displays occur when they’re planted in full sun, in well-drained soil. If the spring season is particularly dry, be sure to keep flowers watered but not soggy.
You can treat bulbs, including daffodil, crocus, hyacinth, squill, snowdrops, and more, as annuals or perennials. If you plan to keep them in your garden for years to come, then deadhead the flowers once they’re done blooming, but leave the foliage. They may not be at their peak glory, but you can intersperse other, later blooming and lusher foliage to take center stage as your bulbs chill out and prepare for another burst of enthusiasm next spring.
Why We Love Them
It’s hard not to love that dash of red or yellow or pink peeking from a frosty ground each spring. They bring color and cheer, they’re easy to care for, and they can grow almost anywhere.
But if that’s not enough, here are some more reasons to love bulbs in your landscape. For starters, they make great flowers to line pathways and grace entryways. They immediately improve curb appeal and give you a chance to put on a different show each year depending on the colors and positioning you choose.
They’re ideal for tough spots, like those bare patches beneath low branches, shady spots under trees, empty spaces between evergreens or shrubs, and even hard-to-plant and impossible-to-mow spots between rocks and on steep slopes.
They’re wonderful as borders, amenable as container plants, and make lovely cut flowers for a cheery breakfast table or a special evening of dining.
Spring-blooming bulbs are some of a gardener’s best friends. They’re fun to play with, stunning to look at, come in a vast array of bold and soothing colors, and give us something to look forward to each spring.
If you’d like to enjoy the bell-like flowers of the daffodil, sleek elegance of tulips, playful petals of hyacinth, or any of the other charming springtime bulbs, from the lollipop tops of allium, to the tufted tips of crown imperial, contact us for a consultation. We’ll design a gorgeous spring display and make sure you enjoy your gardens all year long.