When people think about spring-flowering bulbs, daffodils and tulips are most likely the first types that come to mind. And maybe these bold and beautiful, large-flowered bulbs deserve the starring role, but minor bulbs are worthy of a part in the show as the curtain rises on spring.
The minor bulbs are called minor because of their small size – both in bulb and flower. Planting minor bulbs is easy. A trowel is all that’s needed to plant them. To reward gardeners for their efforts, they carpet winter-worn soil with color. Another benefit: they are often inexpensive. There are so many great choices – here are a few of my favorites.
Snowdrops, botanically named Galanthus, are the first of the minor bulbs to bloom in my landscape. Delicate, nodding, white, bell-shaped flowers often bloom with snow still on the ground. Garden bandits – squirrels and chipmunks in my garden – do not bother these charmers. Snowdrops should be planted 2 to 4 inches deep and apart. They grow best in part shade in well-drained soil. A shady rock garden or woodland are ideal sites.
Crocus vernus, commonly called Dutch crocus, is another early riser that sometimes pushes its way through the snow to declare the arrival of spring. Cup-shaped flowers in bright, striped or solid colors grow 3 to 6 inches tall. Choose your favorite color – glistening white, sunny yellow, bluish-purple or velvety purple – and plant them 2 inches apart and 4 inches deep in the lawn or let them naturalize in the perennial or shrub border.
Glory-of-the-snow is not as well known as crocuses, but just as pretty. Botanically named Chionodoxa lucilae, these are one of my favorites of the minor bulbs. Star-shaped flowers in pink or blue bloom early in spring. Plant them 3 inches deep and apart in full sun to part shade in well-drained soil. Glory-of-the-snow naturalizes to form lovely colonies. One of the best features of this minor bulb is the way the foliage fades away after the flowers have finished blooming. Leaves yellow just like other bulbs, but they do it and disappear more quickly. Read more about Chionodoxa lucilae here.
Muscari gets its common name of grape hyacinths from their fragrant flowers that resemble upside-down bunches of grapes. They are available in white, pink and varying shades of blue from the soft blue of a baby boy’s blanket to the color of midnight. Squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits and deer don’t find them appealing. Plant grape hyacinths 3 inches deep and apart in sun to part shade where they will have room to spread, because spread they will.
I appreciate grape hyacinths for their ability to mark where other bulbs are planted. There’s nothing as frustrating as cutting through bulbs with a shovel when planting in fall. Now, whenever I plant tulips, daffodils or alliums, I plant a few grape hyacinths over them. Because they send up their foliage in fall, they show where larger bulbs are planted eliminating bulb slaying and my guilty conscience.
Sibern squill, or Scilla siberica, is best planted in large numbers to show off their intense color. Each bulb produces multiple electric blue flowers bloom over grass-like foliage. Plant them 3 or 4 inches deep and apart in full sun or part shade where they will multiply quickly, both by bulb offsets and by seed. Siberian squill has naturalized into a sea of blue under our weeping willow, and it’s pretty growing under some evergreen trees. Deer, rabbits, chipmunks and squirrels rarely bother these minor bulbs.
Go ahead and fill your cart with oodles of tulips and daffodils, but don’t forget to pick up some minor bulbs, too. They will make a major impact in the spring landscape. Garden with me!