A garden stroll in the early spring offers a great deal of promise but generally little color. You can rectify this with a little planning and planting this fall to ensure bright spring blooms to enjoy.
What Is a “Minor” Bulb?
Often passed over at the garden center for showy, larger-flowering bulbs, minor spring bulbs give the garden a head start on spring, extending the season by blooming as early as February and March. These beautifully blossomed seasonal gems are short in stature and produce daintier flowers but, when planted en masse, make as powerful a statement as any daffodil, tulip or hyacinth planting.
Chionodoxa, Muscari, Eranthis, Galanthus and other minor bulbs are planted at the same time as tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, and in the same way, although not so deeply. The general rule of thumb is to plant bulbs three times as deep as the bulb is high. Your soil should be well drained so the bulbs do not rot. Don’t forget to include bone meal in the planting hole for strong growth in the spring.
Minor bulbs make perfect partners for all of your other traditional spring-flowering bulbs. Their size makes them suitable for rock gardens and walkways, as well as filling in spaces between other spring bloomers. They also naturalize well and will help fill in any gaps in a spring garden or wildflower lawn.
Top Minor Bulbs
There are many lovely bulbs with smaller, stunning spring flowers to choose from. Some of the most popular and versatile options include…
- Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow): Small, 1 inch white-centered blue or pink flowers appear on leafless stems. Plant in large groups in front of early blooming shrubs or naturalize in the lawn. When grown in shade, blooms last several weeks. Plants grow 4-10 inches tall.
- Muscari (Grape Hyacinths): Offering the rare and cherished blue color in the garden, Muscari have small spherical blossoms bunched into triangular clusters on top of delicate 6-9 inch stems. Grape hyacinths are available in various shades of blue, purple and white.
- Eranthis (Winter Aconite): A relative to the buttercup, Eranthis unfolds bright yellow, honey-scented blossoms that can carpet the chilly ground and bring life to a dormant rock garden. Plants grow 2-4 inches tall.
- Galanthus (Snowdrops): The cold is no deterrent to the bell-shaped frosty white flowers of Galanthus. This plant thrives in light shade under leafless trees and is well suited to random planting amidst tough grass. Shorter varieties grow to 4 inches while giant snowdrops reach 10 inches.
- Leucojum (Giant Snowflake): Drooping bells of white or pink flowers with green tips adorn this frost-hardy 4 inch plant.
- Pushkinia (Striped Squill): The white flowers of this plant look light blue because of the blue stripes on the petals. Plant in sun or partial shade in well-drained soil. Striped Squill grows 6-8 inches tall.
- Scilla (Spanish Squill): This late spring-flowering plant has multiple stems with up to 12 bells on each stem. Colors are blue, pink and white. Scilla needs adequate moisture in the flowering season as it grows to 10-12″ in height. Plant in full sun or partial shade.
- Frittilaria meleagris (Checkered Lily): This small Frittilaria grows to only 9 inches tall compared to its sibling Frittilaria imperalis (Crown Imperial) that grows to a height of 3 feet. The checkered lily’s name is derived from its checker-patterned petals.
Any of these smaller, less obtrusive bulbs can make a great early spring statement in your garden or landscape, bringing it to life long before most spring blooms are at their peak.