The winter is long, dark, wet, and cold. When the first buds of spring flowers begin to pop in March, it’s like a hit of dopamine, giving us all hope that the sun will come out again, someday. But what happens in late spring, when we enjoy six gloriously predictable weeks of spring color, is like a marketing campaign for gardening.
First, daffodils begin to peek out, spraying yards with a band of sunshine-y colors from yellow to peach. Irises follow, shooting up with bearded necks of blues, purples and reds. Peonies begin shortly thereafter, like fluffy clouds of pink and white perfume that demand you stick your entire mug into them. Late spring, the ranunculus pop up, like sprays of bright-colored roses. But it’s the tulips that really make a difference—and if you time it right and do a little planning, the tulips can be a mainstay all spring, and create a color story across your yard.
The problem is, for all the inspiration you get with spring flowers, you can’t just run to the nursery and plant them immediately. Spring flowers go into the ground as bulbs in the fall—and by late summer, when it’s time to order the bulbs, and fall, when you plant them, your memory of the awe and wonder you felt back in spring will have waned.
Most bulbs are grown and harvested overseas, so they’ll take time to import into the U.S., which is why the catalogs have just hit mailboxes.
Timing is everything
CONTENIDOS DE LA PAGINA
We tend to look at our yards as stationary objects—“I can’t put a plant here because that’s where the hostas are”—rather than a constantly changing landscape with the seasons. Bulbs come up at different times, and then go away leaving room for other plants. Most people put in bulbs piecemeal, a few here, a few there, without much planning, and there’s nothing wrong with that technique. But understanding the timing of spring blooms can help you plot a real color story. There are late winter, early-, mid- and late-spring bulbs, and you ideally want to consider bulbs from each of those time bands, so you have consistent blooms through that whole season. Even within tulips, there are early-, mid- and late- season blooming tulips, and by choosing from each group, you get many weeks of color versus one or two.
As you consider your yard, it’s helpful to sketch out a little calendar to plan. For pictures of all the bulbs, you can visit bulb websites. My favorite three are Eden Brothers, Holland Bulb Farms, and Brecks.
How to search for bulbs by color and bloom season.
Think about height
From low-lying crocuses to skyscraper alliums, there’s a lot to think about in terms of placement when it comes to bulbs. You want taller bulbs to not hide shorter bulbs from the curbside view, and you can also use those really tall bulbs as exclamation points throughout your landscape. Think about whether you want graduated layers of flowers or small groupings throughout, and keep in mind the timing of those blooms, too.
Think of painting your yard with pops of color
The most important choice you’ll make with spring blooms is about color. Some bulbs, like alliums, only come in a limited range—from blue to purple. But within the world of irises and tulips there are tons of colors to choose from.
However, I encourage you to skip the random assortments (though they are a screaming deal), and choose a color theme. For instance, I chose to use a band of color from purple to orange. So I picked out reds, magentas, purples, and oranges, and I didn’t stray outside those colors. I decided to have the flowers give an ombre effect across the yard, so I started with red on the leftmost bank, all the way to orange on the right. To fulfill this idea, I set up a little graph, as below. The effect is stunning.
Eden Brothers, in particular, specializes in color packages of bulbs that I find especially compelling. I’m obsessed with their Cherry Pie mix of ranunculus; their Passion Mix of tulips was a showstopper next to my front door. Breck’s Cranberry Apple Texture Mix is stunning and Holland Bulb’s Candy Stripe mix is like someone shouting in your front yard, “look at me!”
Fill in gaps year to year
Since you can’t tell where you planted your spring blooms when you go to plant more each fall, I find taking pictures of the blooms each spring really helpful, so I know where to fill in the gaps. In year two, I layered in a secondary color band of yellows and oranges, and added densely planted bulbs in other spots, like next to my front door.
While professional flower gardeners replace bulbs year to year, as long as you care for your bulbs properly, you’ll see a high rate of return perennially. Bulbs need their leaves and stems, even after you deadhead the flowers, to gain enough energy to bloom again the next spring, which means letting them wither in place. Come fall, we’ll dive into how to plant them successfully. Once you order, your bulbs will come in starting in September.