I’ve written it before-bulbs are miracles. We plant them in October and we don’t see them for five or six months while the snow falls on the frozen ground, we forget we’ve planted them and we forget where we planted them. Then, just as they have faded furthest from our memory, they pop out of the ground one spring day and we shout “Oh yeah, I remember planting those last fall.”
If you plant bulbs that have the ability to “naturalize” you can experience this feeling of joy year after year. Bulbs can be divided into three categories. Hyacinths and some hybrid tulips are best treated as annuals; they will bloom next spring but then fade out by the following year. Other bulbs “perennialize,” that is they do well for three or four years before diminishing. Bulbs which naturalize will be happy for years, multiplying on their own and producing more flowers each year.
You can help bulbs to achieve this performance by providing the right conditions for them. Be sure the soil drains well because bulbs don’t like wet feet. Most bulbs like full sun, keeping in mind that an area that might be shady at planting time in fall will have more light in early spring before the new leaves emerge.
Because bulbs which naturalize are there for the long-term give some thought to where you would plant them. Flowerbeds are ideal, but lawns, forest or roadside edges or groundcover beds all work well. Some of the most beautiful spring scenes come from narcissus or daffodils blooming in lawns or under leafless trees.
One very important aspect in helping naturalized bulbs to do their best is feeding, in fall and spring. It’s a good idea to work in some organic compost or manure into the soil when planting. Feed the bulbs with some bone meal or bulb food as well.
Next spring when the shoots come up (right after you shout for joy) work some all-purpose fertilizer into the soil. You are dealing with old friends who will be bringing smiles to your face every spring for many years so you want to treat them right and make sure they’re happy.
When the blooms have finished it’s vital for naturalized bulbs to be allowed to be left alone, with their leaves intact for six weeks or more. These green leaves, fed by your applications of fertilizer, have the task of recharging the bulb with the energy created by photosynthesis during the growing season.
Here are some good bulb candidates for creating an annual colour show in your garden that will last for a decade or more-
Scilla sibirica-waves of vibrant blue blooms, look great planted in mass or complimenting tulips or daffodils.
Emperor or Fosteriana Tulips-prized for their huge blooms and ability to withstand exposed sites.
Rockgarden Narcissus-medium-sized blooms but extremely durable.
Kaufmanniana Tulips-early bloomers with star-shaped flowers and mottled, speckled or striped foliage.
Muscari or Grape Hyacinth-the most vigorous of bulbs, some species will spread themselves around the garden quite successfully.
Bulbs are not an instant gratification undertaking, but a little planning and effort at planting time with bulbs that naturalize well, and diligence in spring with fertilizing will provide you with a garden full of “old friends” who will delight you for decades.