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How to Choose Spring Flower Bulbs for Continuous Color

Updated on August 10, 2012

Timing Your Blooms for Color Throughout the Spring

Spring flowering bulbs brighten the early days of spring, often pushing through the thin crust of snow as soon as the sun's warmth touches the earth. If you plant different spring flowering bulbs together such as tulip bulbs, crocus, daffodils and others, you can time them so that they provide almost non-stop flowers from early spring through early summer. Here's how to plant spring flowering bulbs for continuous color in the garden.

Choosing Flower Bulbs

Most people are familiar with common spring flowering bulbs such as crocus, tulips and daffodils. Yet there are many other types of bulbs including but not limited to hyacinth, Siberian squill, grape hyacinth and more. Browse through a good bulb catalog or an internet site to familiarize yourself with some of the more unusual bulbs. Note which ones appeal to you and consider adding them to the garden.

Timing Your Bulb Shopping - Shop Early, Plant Late

It's best to shop for your spring flowering bulbs early in the season. Bulbs appear on nursery and garden center store shelves starting in late August. Shopping early ensures you have the best choice of color and type.

But don't plant your bulbs right away! If planted too early, your spring flowering bulbs will sprout. They'll think the warm autumn days are actually spring. Wait until late autumn to plant your bulbs. The exact date depends upon your gardening zone. Most bulb packages have a map of the United States on the back of the package with colored bands corresponding to planting dates. Look for the color on your part of the map, then compare it to the planting dates. Generally speaking, you can plant spring flowering bulbs as late in the season as you wish. As long as you can still dig into the soil, you can plant your bulbs.

What happens if you plant your bulbs and they begin to grow? Will it kill them? No. Nature takes care of them and provides stored food inside the bulb. Even if they sprout and it appears that they are dead from a hard frost, they're likely to grow again in the spring, so just leave them alone.

Choosing Your Bulbs Based on Bloom Time

The trick to having a continual display of color in the flower garden from spring flowering bulbs is to select flowers that bloom in the early spring, mid spring, and late spring, and plant them all together inside one planting hole.

  • Early spring blooming bulbs include crocus, Siberian squill, Glory of the Snow, and Grape hyacinth. Some tulips also bloom early in the season.
  • Mid spring blooming bulbs include certain tulip and daffodil varieties, jonquil and narcissus, and some crocus types.
  • Late spring blooming bulbs include many tulip varieties, daffodils, hyacinth, and Dutch iris.

Look around your garden and select a planting site for your spring flower bulb garden. Flower bulbs require full sunlight, but keep in mind that areas in your garden that may receive dappled shade in the summer and fall may receive full sunlight in the spring before deciduous trees grow leaves. I like to tuck groups of spring bulbs among the shrubs such as my azaleas so that there's a good shout of color from late February through June in that section of the garden. Choose an area that remains undisturbed, since flower bulbs should remain in the ground after flowering. The leaves create food after flowering and help the bulb under the earth develop and store nutrients for the following year, so it's best to leave your spring flower bulbs alone afte they're finished.

Choose your spring bulbs based on timing. Look on the back of the flower package or on the cardboard tag at the top. Usually growers will post the timing of the flowers and list them as Early, Mid or Late Spring blooming flowers. Gather your favorites by size, color and blossom type.

I like to plant one package of each - an early, mid and late blooming bulb - in each planting hole. By the time one is finished flowering, the next takes over.


Planting Bulbs for Continuous Spring Color

Once you've chosen your flower bulbs, if it's still early in the fall, you should store them until the weather turns briskly cold outside but the ground is still soft. Store unopened flower bulbs in a cool, dark location until you're ready to use them.

When it's time to plant them, dig a hole approximately 10 inches deep or to the depth the package states for the deepest bulb. On the back of each flower bulb package, the grower will either provide a picture showing you the depth you need to plant the bulbs, or it will list the depth. It's important to plant your bulbs to this depth and no deeper or shallower than required. A good bulb digger, a hollow tube with a handle on it that you twist into the earth to dig holes for flower bulbs, includes a ruler on the side to help you measure planting depth. You can also just estimate the depth or stick a ruler into the planting hole to see if you're close to the right depth.

Layer your bulbs in the planting hole with the ones needing the deepest holes first. Always plant bulbs with the point side up, like a chocolate kiss. If a bit of brown onion-skin stuff falls off, don't worry. That's called the tunic, and it won't harm your bulbs to plant them with it, nor will it hurt them if it falls off.

After the bulbs needing the deepest holes are planted, push some earth into the hole. Layer your next level of bulbs. Don't worry about setting them on top or too near the first layer. If you can space them around what you just planted, that's great, but don't worry if they're close - your bulbs will figure out where to grow.

Finish with the last layer of bulbs. Add a sprinkle of organic fertilizer such as bone meal. If deer, rodents or squirrels dig up your bulbs, use Ropel, hot pepper wax spray, or another product in the planting hole or on the bulbs to discourage wildlife from eating flower bulbs.

Pat down the soil and place a plant marker near the site so you know that you've planted spring flowering bulbs there. If you don't put a marker there, you're likely to forget what you've planted. I'm notorious for accidentally digging up my spring bulbs and trying to wedge more annual flowers into the same spot. Plant markers have saved many bulbs in my garden!

There's no need to water your bulbs or do anything else. Just let nature take care of them. Bulbs need several weeks of very cold weather to get ready for spring flowering. If they emerge too early and a frost nips the green shoots, don't panic. They'll turn brown, but the bulb is an amazing thing. It stores considerable energy, and the plant should survive.

I like to plant crocus (early season), Darwin (mid season) tulips, and Dutch iris (late spring - early summer bulbs) in the same planting hole. I dig a large hole about one foot wide by one foot deep, sprinkle in some compost and bone meal, and set out my bulbs. I plant them in odd numbers, usually groups of five, for a more natural effect. I don't worry too much about color combinations because that part of my garden is a breezy, natural style, with different colors emerging at different times of the year, but I do love yellow and purple flowers and tend to plant many of those.

Experiment with your favorite flowers. Start simple, and add more tulip bulbs, crocus bulbs and others each year. If you plant at least one type of bulb from each group - early, mid and late flowering - you should have a bright spot of color from early spring through early summer in the garden.


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    • catsimmons profile image

      Catherine Simmons 6 years ago from Mission BC Canada

      Very interesting! I would never have thought of planting them in the same hole! I might try this :-)

    • Jeanne Grunert profile image

      Jeanne Grunert 6 years ago from Virginia

      Hi Deborah, unfortunately the only bulbs I know of that deer tend to leave alone - although they may take a nibble - are daffodils. Please see my Hub on products to keep wildlife from eating tulips and other flowers. I linked to it in the above article. Good luck!

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 6 years ago from Iowa

      Great hub! I've vowed to plant more bulbs this year, so I will bookmark this hub for later in the fall. I do have a problem with deer eating tulips, but they leave the daffodils alone. Do you know if there are any other kinds the deer don't like to eat?