After a long winter, the sight of blooming bulbs is a delight to anyone, especially anyone who gardens.
Of course, plenty of us plant tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. But there's a group of early spring bloomers that deserve more attention than they get. They're called minor bulbs because they're generally diminutive in height and produce tiny flowers on short stems.
But minor bulbs -- including crocus, Siberian squill, glory-of-the-snow and spring-meadow saffron -- pack a major punch. They're among the earliest bulbs to bloom. In fact, snowdrops and snow crocuses can poke their little stalks above the ground while there's still snow on the ground. And although their flowers are smaller than daffodils and tulips, minor bulbs can be grown in masses to make a visual impact.
There's another plus to these diminutive plants: Minor bulbs multiply and continue to flower beautifully over time, unlike tulip cultivars, which tend to become less productive over the years until they disappear completely.
Because they tend to be smaller, minor bulbs are great for planting in the front border of flower beds. And they can easily be naturalized, by planting them in natural drifts or swaths in an open wooded area or right in your lawn.
Spring-blooming, winter-hardy bulbs are native to Siberia, northern China, northern Japan, northern Europe, Asia Minor, parts of Central Asia and northern North America. These bulbs need cold, wet winters before their dormancy is broken in spring and they start to grow and flower. And our cold -- and often wet -- winters make for good bulb growing, as long as we plant them early enough in the fall so their roots have a chance to develop before winter. (It's wise to get most bulbs in the ground by mid-October.)
EIGHT MINOR BULBS TO TRY
These blue flowers face their cheery white centers out, whereas Siberian squill face down. There also are pink (C. forbesii 'Pink Giant') and white (C. luciliae 'Alba') cultivars.
This bulb gets its name from the tiny bell-like flowers that look like clusters of grapes. It's available in a range of colors, from cobalt blue to pale pink to white.
GUINEA HEN FLOWER (Fritillaria meleagris)
The eye-catching checkered guinea hen flowers dangle elegantly from a slender stalk. They also are available in white.
Native to Siberia, this tiny bulb is known for its bright blue, starlike flowers that face the ground. There's also a white-flowered cultivar, S. siberica 'Alba.'
Named for the milky white of its flowers, snowdrops have bell-like sepals and green-tipped petals. G. nivalis 'Viridapice' has green tips on its sepals and petals.
SPRING-MEADOW SAFFRON (Bulbocodium Vernum)
This bulb has bright purplish-pink autumn crocus-like flowers that emerge before its leaves.
The many-petaled flowers resemble daisies, only with fern-like leaves. Available in blue (A. blanda 'Blue Shades'), rosy pink (A. blanda 'Charmer') and white (A. blanda 'White Splendor').
This ground-hugging bulb has yellow buttercup-like flowers above a collar of green frilly leaves. E. hyemalis 'Guinea Gold' has bolder yellow flowers and a bronze cast on the leaves.
Shirley Mah Kooyman is a Twin Cities-based botanist and plant information specialist.