Early season bulbs, sometimes called minor bulbs, are the very first plants to bloom in spring. This year, 2020, our earliest bulbs began blooming in the garden on March 15th! Many will push their cheerful flowers right up through standing snow. While these plants are small their power to lift the spirits in anticipation of spring is tremendous.
Each spring, when these earliest harbingers of spring emerge, I reflect on how much I appreciate their presence.
With few exceptions they are:
Long-lived: Most can be counted on to announce the arrival of spring for decades to come
Increase over time: Most increase slowly over time while a few colonize enthusiastically
Resistant to deer/rabbit browsing: With the sole exception of hybrid crocuses this group is resistant to critter damage
Go dormant early: This group, after their early arrival, disappears into dormancy very quickly so that they do not interfere with perennials that emerge in April/May. Unlike later bulbs such as Daffodils and Tulips, there is no need to wait for unsightly foliage to ripen and die down. This characteristic makes them ideal for underplanting your shrub and perennial borders to provide an entire additional season of color. Those that self-sow (most notably Siberian Squill) will carpet the ground in color before anything else in the garden is even showing signs of life.
Make lovely petite floral bouquets: One of the things I enjoy most about this group of plants is cutting them and bringing them indoors. Arranged in tiny bouquets, their color and fragrance are truly uplifting as the grey skies of March continue outdoors.
All of these bulbs need to be planted in autumn, so mark your calendars now with a notation to come see us this fall for a selection of these delightful early-season bulbs. A small amount of time and energy spent planting in the fall will reward you with years of spring enjoyment. Read more about the three keys to success with bulbs in our article on How to Plant Bulbs.
Always the first to arrive, these earn their common name by arising right through the snow, bearing their dainty teardrop-like white flowers, accented with chartreuse.
Emerging immediately after the Snowdrops, Winter Aconites form dense clusters of divided foliage topped with bright yellow flowers. Self-seeds to slowly colonize.
Up facing blue star-shaped flowers with white star centers. Very showy. My favorite!
Dainty spikes of fragrant flowers appear white but are delicately accented with blue on the back of each flower. Interestingly, it is one of the few flowers that produce blue pollen.
The large flowering hybrid Crocus is a familiar sign of spring. Their slightly smaller cousins (the “Tommy” and Vernus crocus) also bloom early and have the added benefit of not being attractive to squirrels & chipmunks.
Spikes of tiny sky-blue hanging flowers. Self-sows abundantly to form a carpet of blue that disappears into dormancy before anything else even begins to grow.