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Midwest Gardening: Plant Spring-Flowering Bulbs

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Grab your trowel and plant dozens of tulips, daffodils and other bulbs in fall. They'll bring the garden to life in spring.

In spring, a tulip field in Holland blazes with blooms.
Barrett Browning is a daffodil with white and orange, not yellow, flowers.

 

Spring-flowering bulbs are a garden's buried treasures. When it feels good to pull on a sweater, it's time to plant.

Pretty daffodils, tulips and other spring-flowering bulbs are the easiest and most reliable for Midwestern gardens. I like to plant snowdrops and crocuses for a little splash of bloom in late winter, and I grow lots of tulips and daffodils for bright color in the garden from March through mid-May.

Tulipa tarda flowers, adjacent to grape hyacinths, sparkle like stars.

 

Daffodils are the stars of the early-spring show, coming into bloom in my Kansas City garden in March. 'Dutch Master', 'Unsurpassable' and other early daffodils have yellow flowers with blaring trumpets, but not all daffodils are yellow. 'Barrett Browning', a historic cultivar introduced in 1945, has creamy-white petals and an orange cup. It's one of my favorites.

Darwin Hybrid tulips bloom in romantic colors.

 

In general, plant bulbs about three times as deep as they are tall: 6 to 8 inches deep for big daffodil and tulip bulbs. Sparkling little-species tulips, such as Tulipa tarda, above, grow from small bulbs that you easily can plant by the handful just 3 inches deep. Plant them with blue grape hyacinths right next to a garden path, where you can't miss them.

Splitting brown jackets noticed while planting are no cause for worry.

 

It's fun to experiment with colorful combinations of tulips. If you want tulips of various colors to bloom at the same time, plant those belonging to the same group. Single Early tulips bloom in early spring; Darwin Hybrid tulips bloom in midspring; Triumph tulips bloom just a bit later.

I like Darwin Hybrids for their big flowers, sturdy stems and perfect, egg-shape buds. I plant them like wildflowers, mixing three or four different colors in a bucket and planting them at random throughout a flowerbed. If you prefer the dazzling effect of a Dutch bulb field, stick with just one variety and plant hundreds of them.

Professional landscapers in the Central Midwest start planting spring bulbs around the first of November, and they may still be planting just before the holidays. I start a little earlier, in mid-October, and try to finish by the end of November. While you're planting you may notice tulip bulbs splitting their brown, crinkly jackets. Don't worry; they'll be fine. Spring is securely packed inside each bulb.

How do spring bulbs fit into your planting scheme?

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