One of the pleasures of gardening is the spring display of blossoms from hyacinths, tulips, daffodils and other bulbous plants. These plants are unique and delightful harbingers of the end of winter, the imminent arrival of the warmer days of spring, the bursting buds of many plants, and many other aspects of life’s cycle.
With careful observation, we can also witness the offspring of birds, insects and—depending on where you live and where you wander— the beasts of the field and the forest.
We can set our digital calendars or timepieces to ensure that we enjoy the magical gift that we receive each spring, but a gardening strategy for marking the occasion is equally reliable, more natural and definitely more satisfying.
This gardening strategy imposes certain obligations on the gardener, mostly involving timely action. In particular, this means planting spring bulbs in the early fall, and that requires planning just about now.
If you are a past mail-order customer of spring bulbs, you should find a catalog or two in your mail soon. You might have already received such timely prompts. Take the time to look through the pages to imagine those blossoms in your garden in the spring, make your choices and order the bulbs right away, while you most likely to secure the selections you prefer.
If you are already a regular cultivator of spring bulbs you will have many ideas to consider. If you would like inspiration, the American Gardening Association has listed “The Top 50 Most Popular Spring Blooming Bulbs.” Find this list at the NGA website, garden.org.
If you particularly like tulips, which are available in a mind-boggling range of colors and forms. Plan to order your selected bulbs early enough to chill them for eight-to-ten weeks in vented paper bags in a refrigerator. Do not store fruit in the refrigerator at the same time, because ripening fruits (especially apples) releases ethylene gas that will damage the bulbs. In November or early December, move them directly from the refrigerator to a sunny planting site.
Alternatively, look for a supplier that offers pre-chilled bulbs and well send them to you at planting time. This is a convenient option but generally is available only with a limited selection of bulbs. You still need to order early.
There are a few wild tulips that are readily available and do not require chilling. They typically their blossoms are not as large and showy as those of the hybrid varieties, but they are nevertheless quite charming additions to the garden. Look for Tulip bakeri (native to Crete), T. clusiana (Middle East), T. saxatillis (Crete), T. sylvestris (Europe, Asia Minor), and T. tarda (Central Asia). One mail-order source of wild tulips is McClure & Zimmerman.
Many other spring-blooming bulbs do not require such chilling. The most popular of these are the daffodils, which include a wonderful range of hybrid colors and forms. Daffodils are fine choices for the Monterey Bar area because they will propagate easily with minimal care, and provide a growing annual display in your garden.
Plant your spring-blooming bulbs in a sunny location, with the top about three times as deep as the diameter of the bulb.
Spring-blooming bulbs are not expensive, so consider the purchase of enough bulbs to provide a dramatic display in the spring. Plant them in informal clusters either among other garden plants or in an open area.
The tried-and-true bulbs are always a good choice, but also consider bringing some of the less familiar plants to your garden. As you gain experience with spring-blooming bulbs, you can plant varieties that bloom in the early, middle or late season for a longer display, or color groupings that delight the eye, or container plantings that can be placed prominently when at their prime and moved later out of the way as they fade.
Start now to plan your display of spring-blooming bulbs!