Spring Bulbs Brighten the Garden


We really know its spring when we see the first flowering bulbs appear – crocus, reticulata iris and daffodils. In March and April, pretty tulips and amazing flowering onions are brightening the landscapes around town. That means now is an ideal time to take notes and pictures of your favorite bulbs so your garden can look fabulous next spring.


Allium / Alice Le Duc

One great place to get ideas is in the Triangle’s public gardens. It’s so much more helpful to see the plants in person than in the pages of a seed catalog or online.  Refer back to your notes and photos in the fall when it’s time to plant these spring blooming bulbs.

A real key to the ‘wow’ effect is the combination of bulbs and winter annual or spring flowering perennials. One of my all time favorites from last spring at Sarah P. Duke Gardens were the beds of yarrow (Achillea filapendula ‘Moonshine’) and flowering onion (Allium aflatunense ‘Purple Sensation’). The fine texture of the yarrow leaves with the flat heads of bright yellow flowers set off the large, bold purple flowers heads of the flowering onion.

A striking combination this spring is “black” tulips with yellow violas. Because of the strong anchor that the wisteria creates in early April, the colors of Duke Gardens’ tulips tend to be yellow, purple or orange. I’m looking forward to seeing how the black works.

One thing to remember is that the flowering process uses up the original tulip bulb you buy, so new bulbs must form from the old stem plate. This development process is usually thwarted by the Triangle’s rainy summers. In addition, the bulbs’ need for a specific number of hours of temperatures below 40° in order to rebloom the following year is not reliable here. Most years we do not meet this requirement for most tulip cultivars. By buying new tulip bulbs each year, you can ensure that you will have tulip flowers in the spring.

Remember, we are in the South and tulips are normally treated like winter annuals. Many other spring bulbs generally do not require such a specific cold temperature period to produce flowers like tulips.

If you are looking to add some reliable repeat bulbs to your garden, check out naturalizing types of daffodil (Narcissus), gladiolas (Gladiolus), Iris reticulata, Dutch iris (Iris x hybrida), hurricane or spider lily (Lycoris), Lords & Ladies  (Arum italicum), starflower (Ipheon), cyclamen and grape hyacinth (Muscari).

And if your Bambi considers your garden a nice winter’s day buffet or you just don’t have space for lots of bulbs, consider growing them in containers.

Featured image -Starflower/photo by Vanbloem Gardens

Alice Le Duc is the former director of adult education at Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

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