By Jenny Rose Carey, Senior Director, PHS Meadowbrook Farm
So much of gardening is thinking about the future so as we are relishing the beautiful leaves of Fall, we only have a few more weeks to plant flower bulbs for some early, cheerful color in our gardens next Spring.
The most reliable and usually the best value in the long term are daffodil (Narcissus) bulbs. They are critter resistant – deer and rabbits do not eat them – and if planted correctly will come back year after year. My favorites are the smaller daffodils that blend easily into the garden, instead of the larger versions. The smaller ones are still colorful, and as they die down the leaves are easily covered by the growth of surrounding perennials such as Salvia and Nepeta. Try the little ‘Tete-a-Tete’ with its multiple yellow heads per stem, ‘Jetfire’ with yellow outer petals and an orange cup, or another bright yellow daffodil called ‘Rapture’ with its swept-back petals. If you are looking for a white daffodil, one of the best is ‘Thalia.’ It is over 100 years old but has stood the test of time as a perennial bulb -- and it increases to make larger clumps each year.
I recommend everyone get daffodil bulbs in the ground as soon as possible. Plant them in a sunny place, in good garden soil, at a depth of two to three times the height of the bulb – and remember to put them in the hole pointed end up! Dig one big hole and put a cluster of bulbs into the hole. Add bone meal, to the planting hole – if you don’t have dogs – otherwise your furry friends will dig up your bulbs! The bulbs do not need any fertilizer to grow this year, but this is for the future.
Another great set of bulbs for the garden are tulips. Tulips are so varied in color – from traditional reds and yellows – to white, pink, purple, and orange. The only color that you will not find in a tulip is a true blue. They are designated as Early, Midspring, or Late bloomers – meaning April through May. Extend the tulip season by planting some for each period of time. As you plant tulips, remember that they are preferred by all garden herbivores. One tip to outsmart them is by planting the bulbs in a pot (you can sink the pot in the ground if you like).
There are so many cool tulips to choose from, but I love the look of the lily-flowering tulips with their out-flaring petals – try Orange ‘Ballerina’ or Yellow ‘West Point.’ The tulips that are most likely to come back for a few years in the garden are the petite species tulips that are often planted in a rock garden, or the Darwin Hybrids. Other tips include using an animal repellant both in the planting hole and as the delicate shoots emerge in the spring (any deer and rabbit spray will do), and planting bulbs deeply -- large tulips should be about eight inches down.
Lastly – do not forget the little bulbs that are so lovely in a shaded spot. Try Blue Squill (Scilla siberica) that is only about five or six inches tall when it blooms in April with a bright blue nodding bell-shaped flower. It is best to plant it in a clump by digging a hole and putting at least 10 bulbs in a hole. The more bulbs, the better the display after a long Winter!
There are many more bulbs to try. See what is still available online or in the stores before the frost will make the ground too hard to dig in. Try something new this year and you will be so grateful next Spring when they pop out of the ground and brighten your day with their cheerful color.
The PHS Public Landscapes team is currently planting a total of 30,000 bulbs in public gardens along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Plan to visit these sites next spring to enjoy all the tulips and daffodils in bloom.