The most commonly used spring flowering bulbs are the ‘major bulbs’ such as daffodils, tulips and hyacinths. However, there is a whole group of ‘minor bulbs’ that provide such reliable color that most gardens would benefit from including them when planning for early spring color. The bulbs are tiny and the plants are small, rarely more than six inches in height, so a large number of bulbs are needed in order to make a visual impact.
The term ‘bulb’ includes a variety of plants with a large storage root (or stem) from which the plant grows every year. These little wonders of nature require only moisture and rising temperatures to end their dormancy and begin to grow. This means that bulbs are generally an easy and fool-proof garden plant. Minor bulbs also tend to be very resistant to deer and rabbit damage.
Minor bulbs should be planted during the fall, in drifts or masses, about 3”-4” deep. They can be planted in flower beds or shrub beds where they’ll emerge and bloom before the perennials get started and before deciduous plants leaf out.
Some of the prettiest minor bulbs, listed in order of the appearance in a garden, are:
Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) Snowdrops do well in our area and emerge very early. The small three-segmented, drooping white flowers are 5” tall and stand out dramatically above their silver-green foliage. (March)
Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) is another early bloomer. The solitary, yellow buttercup-shaped flowers grow 6” tall and are surrounded by bright green bracts that look like a collar around the blossom. (March)
Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxas) are low growing plants, reaching 4-6” high with grass-like leaves that appear the same time as the flowers. The blue star shaped flowers face upwards and has a central white eye, lasting two weeks or more. (March/April)
Crocus (Crocus) naturalize exceptionally well, creating an expanding carpet of bright colors as the years go by. Their purples, lavenders, whites and yellows are a clear signal that spring in on its way. These are the only minor bulbs that we’ve listed that the rabbits eat. (March/April)
Scilla (Scilla siberica), also called ‘Squill’, this vivid blue flower is about 5” tall. You can see some strikingly beautiful and very large drifts in many North Shore gardens where they have been naturalizing for many years. Some varieties are available in pink and white, but the blues are spring time knock-outs. (April)
Windflower (Anemone) is a charming border plant with daisy-like flowers that comes in a variety of blues, pinks, violets and white. The foliage resembles parsley and the plant stands about 6” tall. (April)
Grape Hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) is the largest of the minor bulbs with tiny deep blue flowers densely clustered like miniature grapes on a firm stalk. The flower cluster is about 5” long and the plant grows to 7” or 8”. They are long lasting and produce a striking effect when planted in drifts. (April-May)