Ok, it’s official, fall is almost here. My first clue wasn’t the cooler days and nights, but the arrival of the fall mums and bulbs at my local garden center. Of course, it’s still a bit early to actually plant the spring flowering tulips, daffodils, crocus and alliums, but it is the best time to buy them, especially if you’re looking for some of the latest introductions which tend to sell out early.
Many places may sell bulbs - from supermarket to home improvement warehouses - but I always I head to the nearest garden center or nursery where I know that I will find the best selection and be able to ask questions and get advice from the experts on staff. If you have deer problems (and who doesn’t!?) or issues with shade, asking questions will make sure that you get the right bulbs. As well, many bulbs, like most tulips, don’t repeat well and are best bought as ‘annuals’. If you want tulips that will come back year after year, stick to perennializing types like species, Darwin or Kaufmanniana tulips. Again, asking questions is always a good idea.
I once read that "Buying a good bulb is like buying a good apple", which simply means that when you’re choosing bulbs, look for those that are firm and unblemished, avoiding any that are soft and wrinkly, moldy or bruised. Unusually small or damaged bulbs may never reach their full potential and are best left in the box. I do like to go to a store that allows me to pick out my own bulbs. The pre-packaged bulbs are often of a lesser grade or quality and I want to make sure that I’m buying the best possible bulbs. Once you’ve bought your bulbs, store them in a cool, dry spot like a basement or unheated garage until it’s time to plant in October.
Niki’s top picks for bulbs that are small in stature, but big on impact!
Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa luciliae) - This is an outstanding small bulb that is extremely versatile. It can be grown in the partial shade of a woodland garden, or along the sunny front edge of a perennial border. Even the deer don’t bother it! Each plant grows about 6 to 8 inches tall and is smothered in pretty star-shaped blue flowers in early spring. The blossoms last for weeks and can also be used to create an early spring carpet of colour.
Grape Hyacinths (Muscari sp) - Grape Hyacinths are long lived perennial bulbs that are pretty much indestructible. The blooms are formed in charming bunches that resemble tiny clusters of grapes. Besides the common purple, there are grape hyacinths in bi-colours, white, soft blue and even bright yellow. Like Glory of the Snow, grape hyacinths are also deer resistant and long blooming.
Spring Beauty (Scilla siberica) - I first grew these as a teenager in my parents front garden where they created a carpet of blue around the clumps of yellow trumpet daffodils. Spectacular! Since then, I’ve always included spring beauty in my annual bulb plantings. The compact plants grow about 6 inches tall and produce 3 to 4 stems topped by clusters of pretty lavender-blue, bell-shaped blooms that last for weeks!
Niki Jabbour is the author of the award winning book, The Year Round Vegetable Gardener (2012 American Horticultural Society Book Award) and the host of The Weekend Gardener radio show that airs every Sunday from 11 to 1 pm on News 95.7 FM. For more info, please visit www.nikijabbour.com or follow her on twitter at @NikiJabbour.