Great Expectations for Spring

It’s tempting to add some color to your garden with fall planted bulbs, but what are you really getting? Or what are you really getting into for that matter? Allow me to give you the ‘low down’ before you ‘get down’ to planting!

Fall planted bulbs will produce beautiful spring blooms for you, but maybe not exactly as pictured on the box. Bulb companies are looking to sell you their product, so they are going to make that picture on the box look as amazing as possible with some Photoshop tweaking. If you are looking for a particular color, jump online and check out what the flower looks like in a garden setting, rather than on a box or in a magazine. You may be surprised how different the color can be. The color purple, for example, can be particularly deceiving. A camera filter a few shades to the red or to the blue will change the color completely. I had this happen to me on several occasions where a flower was claimed to be true purple, but ended up maroon or pink. No, it wasn’t the end of the world, but to someone like me who likes to stick to a color scheme, the outcome was a slight disappointment.  

Know Your Flower

Flowers labeled ‘great for naturalizing’ will spread by the production of more bulbs and/or by seeds they produce. They are only appropriate for gardens with space, and for people who understand that these flowers will put on a huge show for a short period of time, and then be a mess of yellow leaves throughout your garden shortly thereafter. Some people adore that wild woodland look, but be careful! Some of these so called naturalizing bulbs are actually weeds in disguise! I have been paid to remove bulbs from gardens for this reason. They grow where they want and spread so thickly, I’ve seen them destroy lawns and perennials, and make your shrubs looks weedy.

Some of the biggest impostors of innocent looking bulbs are Glory-of-the-Snow, small flowering Alliums, Grape Hyacinths, and Star of Bethlehem. Deceitfully beautiful, these bulbs spread quickly to take over your flower bed in mass, destroying what organized landscaping you have in a matter of a couple years. Don’t think that lawn edging or weed mat will keep them at bay either. They will happily drop seeds into your lawn and pop up sometimes several feet from the mother plant. They also have no problem growing over the top of your weed mat! These bulbs should be listed as noxious weeds in my book, rather than garden flowers.

Daffodil & Narcissus

Another bulb I have a love/hate relationship with is the daffodil and its cousin the narcissus. Who doesn’t enjoy a yellow daffodil blooming in amongst the tulips? The only problem is, they are short lived. I have yet to come across a daffodil that lasts more than three years here in Eastern Washington. The mother bulb will produce a beautiful bloom the first year, but consecutive years thereafter, the bulbs will peter out, growing nothing but a tall grass- like leaf here and there where they used to thrive. The ‘pink’ daffodils are the first to disappear, while the hardy Giant King Arthur can last three or four years. Once they become weak and leggy, dig them out and replace them with new.

Tulips

Tulips grow very well here, but I still recommend digging them out every two years, throw out the tiny bulbs and replant the larger bulbs. I plant all bulbs in groups, never straight lines. Make sure they are not planted upside down (fat end down), and plant them twice as deep as the bulbs are tall.  Mixing in some bone meal will ensure strong bulbs that will overwinter better for you.

Any other questions? Contact me at [email protected]

By Erin Nelson

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