It’s Not Too Late to Plant Bulbs!

As I am sitting here in my warm house, thinking of the gardening chores that still need to be done, I usually end up looking at bulb catalogs. You might think it is too late for bulbs, but it’s not! Our fall this year has been very warm with just a few cold days sprinkled in and in the next week, we will have days in the fifties with ground still cold enough for our spring planting. Since I am cold natured, I like to garden when it is cool but not freezing- just like the bulbs that need to be planted.

For those of you who have migrated here from far and wide, here are a few tips from my extensive reading and old timers gardening advice: tulips are high maintenance. They are beautiful in our climate for one year usually, and require special attention if you decide to plant them. They are also varmit delicacies, so if you plant them, be sure to protect them with a cage or permatil, a sharp gravel that cuts the nose of the determined diggers.

For those of you who are determined to take the tulip plunge, Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, Va. is a great resource for bulbs in our area. They are in zone 7b as we are, and their catalog has suggestions on superior habits, bloom time, and color combinations of many bulbs plus a lot of other useful advice. To me their catalog reads like a novel! One of their suggestions regarding tulips is to plant the Species Tulips. Listen to this description of Clusiana var. chrysanta- “When the petals are closed, you see the crimson exterior: when they’re open, you can see bright yellow reflecting the rays of the sun; early mid spring. Discovered in 1948.” Or this one- “Honky Tonk-bright, sunny disposition and blushed with warmth as one might be in a ‘Honky Tonk’. Cute and strong; mid-late spring” Wowser! I planted these years ago and they increase and come back every year. They are small and can be planted in a container as well.

You can order bulbs in mixes, such as meadow mix, nectar mix, butterfly mix, or daffodil mix for the South and the list goes on. I recommend the B and B daffodil favorites. Also interesting are alliums, which are ornamental onions. Varmits don’t bother them, and they are suitable for heirloom gardens, meadow, and cutting gardens. As an added bonus, they attract pollinators. I have the drumstick variety in my yard. They are small and look great alongside daylilies.

Arum is a little known bulb with a variegated arrow leaf. I plant them alongside hostas. When the hostas are spent, the arums are coming up and will last all winter. These prefer some shade like hostas, and in the spring will sport red spikes which appear when the hosta is peeking out. Arums provide 3 seasons of interest and are deer resistant which is an added plus.

Camassia is a keeper if you like subtle color and a slow naturalizing habit. Master Gardener Liz Ford introduced me to this plant. I grow a purple variety called Quamash which will also grow in wet conditions. This plant has a creamy white variegated edge with a white flower named after the Indian woman Sacajawea who helped to keep Lewis and Clark alive during their expedition of North America by feeding them Quamash bulbs. Fun facts to know and tell! Who knew gardening and history could go so well together?

Not to be forgotten are the little bulbs such as the grape hyacinth (muscari) which offer a beautiful foil for the yellows and golds of the daffodils. They are easy to plant with the daffodils and come back everywhere. The grape hyacinth called Golden Fragrance is described as not resembling grapes at all, but rather looks more like tiny yellow bananas going up its 5”-8” stems and decorated with a plum purple crown. They are unusually and sweetly fragrant.

Another important other tip from Brent and Becky is this: providing excellent drainage for marginally hardy bulbs or plants often increases their winter hardiness by a number of two. Additionally, that same wonderful drainage helps keep spring flowering bulbs from rotting in our hot but sometimes wet summers.

And finally- one more catalog offering to drool over: The Terra CeiaFarms in Pantego, NC in Beaufort County. This is a Dutch family with inter