In spring, the ‘major bulbs’ of tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths are popular and prominent in gardens everywhere. However, there is a group of much smaller ‘minor bulbs’ that are worthy of attention as they are reliable and are deer and rabbit resistant. Though diminutive at only 3-6″ in height, when planted in abundance, the effect is a striking and memorable sea of color in the landscape. These little wonders only need the right temperatures and sufficient rainfall to appear. Since they are so small, they can be planted in lawns, groundcover, and among larger perennials that conceal their spent foliage. Here are some of our favorite minor bulbs in the Chicagoland region, listed in the order of appearance in a garden.
Minor Bulbs in Order of Appearance
Snowdrops brighten an empty bed in early spring.
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 flowers are dressed with frilly green collars underneath.
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)
Upward-facing, star-shaped blooms of Glory of the Snow are bright blue with white centers.
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)
Hundreds of, bell-shaped scilla create a blue wave in a garden.
Scilla (Scilla siberica), also called ‘Squill’, (top picture) is a vivid blue flower about 5” tall. You can see find strikingly beautiful and 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 blue scilla is a springtime knock-out. (April)
Daisy-like, diminutive anemones come in a variety of colors.
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 Hyacinths resemble grape clusters and are the tallest minor bulb, at 6-7″ in height.
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)
Garden Tip: Spring-flowering bulbs are only installed in the fall. Plan ahead by taking pictures of areas in your garden now to determine areas for spring color, and refer to these pictures later to help you with bulb planting.