Bulbs · Butterflies & Bees in the Garden

It’s Crocus Time!

I am generally pretty demanding when it comes to the perennials in my landscape. There isn’t much room for those one-and-done types, those perennials that bloom for three weeks and then offer little else to the garden.

But when it comes to bulbs, all bets are off, and here’s why. Bulbs are a gardener’s reward for surviving winter. Their bloom time may be short but with a little planning, bulbs of some sort bloom from March through May until the perennials are ready to take over. Bulbs take up very little space in the garden, happy to snuggle in between the roots of perennials. And, after they are planted, they require very little care.

Snowdrops (Galanthus) and winter aconite (Eranthis) hold a special place in my heart because they bloom first, promising spring is on the way. But the real show of color begins with crocus. Crocus tommasinianus blooms first in my landscape quickly followed by Crocus chrysanthus and Crocus vernus.

Crocus tommasinianus

Crocus tommasinianus, commonly called snow crocus, announce the beginning of spring with pale lavender to reddish-purple, goblet-shaped flowers surrounded by a few grass-like leaves. Flowers open in the light of day and close at night. Although they only grow 4 inches tall, Crocus tommasinianus have been waking up gardens since the mid-1800’s. Plants, both flowers and foliage, disappear from the garden by early summer. Squirrels and other rodents tend to leave snow crocus alone.

Crocus chrysanthus

Also commonly referred to as snow crocus and sometimes golden crocus, Crocus chrysanthus is similar is stature and foliage but boasts bright yellow, cup-like flowers with maroon striping on the outsides of their petals. Their flowers are sun worshippers and only open on sunny days. On cloudy days and in the evenings, flowers remain shut tight. Squirrels are skilled at finding and digging up newly planted bulbs, but once bulbs are rooted in they are left alone.

Cultivars of Crocus chrysanthus offer flowers in colors other than yellow. ‘Blue Pearl’ shows off ice blue blooms; the flowers of ‘Cream Beauty’ are pale yellow; and ‘Prins Clause’ displays sparkling white blooms brushed with deep purple on the outsides of their petals.

Crocus vernus

The cup-shaped flowers of Crocus vernus bloom in a wide range of striped and solid colors from sparking white and sunny yellow to bluish-purple and velvety purple. Commonly called Dutch crocus, large-flowering and giant crocus, they also grow about 4 inches tall and sport narrow, linear leaves around their flowers. And like snow crocus, they also go dormant a few weeks after flowering. Squirrels, mice or other garden rodents sometimes dig these out of pots of bulbs while overwintering in my garage, but don’t bother them out of the garden.

Some cultivars of Crocus vernus include ‘Bowles White’ (yellow-throated white flowers), ‘Flower Record’ (violet flowers), and ‘Pickwick’ (lavender and purple striped blooms).

Crocus vernus - mixed colors

Crocus are easy to grow in well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. They will rot in soggy soil. In October, add compost to the soil before planting corms 3 to 4 inches deep and apart. Water thoroughly after planting. After flowering, let the foliage yellow and die back before removing.

Plant crocus to peek out between rocks in rock gardens, in sweeping drifts in shrub borders, nestled between perennials in perennial gardens or as colorful carpets in lawns. As bumblebee queens wake from their winter naps, they will buzz with delight wherever they are planted.

The garden is beginning to awaken, get out there and enjoy. Garden with me!

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