I can’t help it. Every morning I take a walk through the garden to check for signs of life. It was thrilling a few weeks ago to see the winter aconites with their bright yellow blossoms emerge through the last vestiges of snow. It won’t be long before the scilla begin blooming at Kemper Center.
We tend to think of crocus as the first bulbs, but there are plenty of other small bulbs that also emerge early to give us a taste of color before the blowsy daffodils and tulips come along. So, keep your eyes open for these bulbs.
And, make notes or take pictures so that next fall when bulb planting season rolls around, you can search them out in garden stores or by mail order to add some to your landscape.
This is also a great time to make notes on bulbs you already have in your landscape that aren’t blooming well and may need to be lifted and divided for next year. Put stakes in the ground with the name and color (it’s amazing how faulty our memory can be when there are no leaves to guide us). Wait until the foliage dies completely, usually late June, and then dig and hang them in mesh bags in the garage for fall planting.
I make every effort to place my bulbs in spots where the dying foliage is hidden by emerging perennials or newly planted annuals. If the foliage is visible, it’s very hard to keep from yanking the ugly leaves when they spoil the look of a bed, even though I know they need to be left to replenish the bulb. Hiding that foliage from view takes away the temptation to pull it too early.
Bulb catalogs usually begin arriving in late spring, so while the beautiful blooms are still fresh on your mind, put your order in early. Although tulips and daffodils are the queens of the bulb garden, consider adding some smaller bulbs to round out your display.
Winter aconites and snowdrops start the display in February and March and there’s nothing quite like the fresh green and white of snowdrops when there’s still snow on the ground to set the gardening spirits soaring. Smaller bulbs like dwarf iris, hardy cyclamen and chionodoxa give the bulb display added color from March through June. Botanical tulips, smaller and shorter than the traditional Darwin hybrids, come up extra early. Their great advantage is that they do not exhaust themselves after one or two years as the hybrid tulips tend to do.
When adding bulbs to your display, keep in mind that they need plenty of sun and well-drained soil in order to produce healthy blooms. To keep them blooming year after year, give them a boost by side-dressing the plants with compost or composted manure right after the blossoms have faded. And cut out only the flower stalk. Don’t be tempted to pull those leaves!
Kate Jerome, a Kenosha writer and teacher, holds a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin and is the former Urban Farm director at Gateway Technical College. She is the owner of the consulting business Kate Jerome’s Garden to Kitchen. Her website is www.kjerome.com.