How to get the most out of your spring bulbs

  • Article by: GAIL BROWN HUDSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 22, 2013 - 3:09 PM

Be wise and plan for impact, choose bulbs with punch and longevity – and plant now.

Globe Thistle


It’s the eye candy of spring. Nothing can compare to the bright splashes of color that bulbs can bring to a winter-weary Minnesota landscape.

Thing is, you have to do the work now.

“In the spring, people see the alliums are blooming and they come to us and say, ‘Where are those plants?’ ” said Scott Endres, co-owner of Tangletown Gardens in Minneapolis. Of course, they’re not in the greenhouses in spring because, like other spring-blooming bulbs, they must be planted in the fall.

Right now, in fact.

Good thing that planting bulbs isn’t much work. All you need to do, said Endres, is “dig a hole, drop a bulb and you’re done.”

Going native

If you want maximum impact with minimal effort, select bulbs that naturalize, or come back each year and spread — such as crocus, scilla, hyacinth, striped squill, snowdrops, glory-of-the-snow or even the checkered lily (Fritillaria meleagris). (Yes, this delicate flower really has checks and, yes, it’s a bit tricky to grow.)

Neil Anderson, a floriculture professor at the University of Minnesota, recommends a dwarf, buttercup-shaped beauty called winter aconite (Eranthis), which blooms very early, even before snowdrops do. “It’s virtually unknown in the U.S. but immensely popular all over Europe,” he said. “And it naturalizes very easily.”

For something more native looking, he recommends trout lily (Erythronium), with its lovely speckled leaves.

Tried and traditional

If you can’t bear to go without traditional bulbs such as daffodils and tulips, try to make smart selections.

For example, some daffodils stay in one spot, while others multiply and spread. If you want drifts of daffodils, Anderson advises choosing varieties such as Ice Follies, Scarlet Gem and Unsurpassable, or Téte-a-téte, a miniature.

When Endres plants tulips, he chooses those with interesting foliage, such as Orange Sunrise, which he calls “just about the happiest thing you see when it’s blooming.” But while its orange blooms “catch your eye,” said Endres, “up close you can see the alligator-like pattern with red and green in the leaf itself.”

In for alliums

Alliums top Endres’ list of bulb favorites, including Pinball Wizard, a new giant allium that boasts a tight cluster of silvery, lilac petals in 6- to 8-inch orbs.

Susie Bachman West, vice president of marketing and sales at Bachman’s, also likes alliums, because they come in a wide range of colors and sizes, from “one giganteum variety that gives you that big purple flower head on the top all the way down to tiny alliums that pop up. Some varieties when they come up look like hair — chartreuse green — like somebody had a bad hair day.”

Shop smart

When heading to the garden center, Endres said, it’s important to develop a plan and “not be a kid in a candy store.”

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Globe Thistle