Updated: Oct 23, 2019
My very good friend Alex always texts me in the spring saying she really wants tulips in her yard and I always have to say "you can and you should have tulips--but you'll have to wait a year!" Unless...you plant them in the Fall. Most spring bulbs require a chilling period when they set roots and gear up for a spring bloom. This is great news for those of us living with shorter growing seasons--it just means we have to be on top of our fall planting. Six months after you tuck your bulbs in for their winter nap, you will be magically rewarded with blooms popping out of the season's final snow flurries.
Growing a spring garden is easy when you plant bulbs in the fall. You literally just have to get the suckers into the ground before it freezes beyond diggability (that should totally be a word). Most bulbs like to be planted at least 2 inches below the surface and you can get fancy and plant them in layers based on first to last blooming (if you're into that kind of order and organization). Or, you can simply slip your trowel into where the soil will let you (we have clay soil here and it is no joke, the soil decides where I can plant, not the other way around), drop a bulb in, cover it up with dirt like a winter blanket, and wait for the spring.
But, before you can plant your bulbs, you must buy them! If you are like me, I order about 300 bulbs each Fall. Now, you might be saying "300, are you crazy?!?" Or "only 300, you are slacking this year!" The 300 or so bulbs I put into my personal garden (not my flower cutting fields, but my HOME garden), supplement the 500 bulbs I started out with about seven years ago when I established the garden. While 300 is a lot of bulbs to buy and feels like a million holes to dig, these bulbs help replace the ones that died out and grow the number of flowers my family enjoys every spring. Most bulbs will only produce one flower a season and most bulb grown flowers are not bushy so it actually takes a lot to get a good showing. But don't worry if you aren't in the market to spend hundreds of dollars on bulbs, even a couple dozen will provide you with ample color and cheer come spring. Also, I search out deals and sales and shoot for spending about $1 a bulb on average (with some costing more and others costing less). Buying in bulk really helps save money while ensuring the quantities you need.
Below I will detail which bulbs I tend to buy and why. For example, which bulbs are the biggest bang for you bucks, which last the longest, which smell the sweetest, and which are the show stoppers. Before I get all bulb fan-girl, however, here is a list of places you can buy from:
There are five main types of bulbs I plant in the Fall (in order of appearance in the spring):
Crocus - the very first blooms to pop up though the snow, promising us color and new life to come. They come in a variety of colors and while most bloom in very early spring, there are a few fall blooming varieties. Orange and pale blue versions have become popular in recent years but the traditional yellow and deep purple are my favorite. These bulbs are tiny (about the size of an acorn) and do best planted in handfuls for clumps of color.
Hyacinth - I must have hyacinth growing by my front door. The sweet perfume of these conical blooms is one of my favorite things about spring. Unfortunately, hyacinth are not the cheapest blooms, they don't naturalize (spread and multiply on their own), they tend to get pushed up and out of the soil after a few years, then they stop producing flowers, and then they need to be replaced. While these blooms are not the workhorses daffodils are, they are worth every penny and the work to replace them every few years (see why I HAVE to buy hundreds of bulbs every year?!?).
Daffodils - If you want the most bang for your bucks, daffodils are the spring bulb for you. They will naturalize (spread and multiply) all on their own, they come in yellow, white, pink, orange, and green varieties, they have a mild but divine perfume, and they are deer resistant! If you are looking for a one-stop-shop for your spring garden needs, Daffodils are the tickets!
Tulips - I have a love-hate relationship with tulips. As a floral designer I am in love with all of the shapes, colors, frills, and fringes of these amazing flowers. As a gardener, I hate that I have to replace them every year. Tulip bulbs generally have just enough energy to produce one season's worth of full sized blooms then, if you are lucky, may produce a year or two more of smaller, less vibrant blooms. My grow space is simply too limited to rely on tired bulbs so I pull my tulips out when they are spent each spring and then replace in them in the Fall. These pictured here are double tulips and look almost like a rose, they also come in red and purple and I absolutely adore them. Here's a link to a post I wrote on my favorite tulip ever, Queen of the Night. She's expected to soon go extinct so I highly recommend growing her while you still can.
Allium - I tell ya, onions never looked SO good. While allium don't actually produce onions they do have a minor oniony smell (but only if you REALLY get up in their grill and the bees -who love these giant blooms- probably won't let you anyway). These flowers are the Dr. Seuss plants of the garden and are total show stoppers. They are pricy but they come back bigger and better every year and spread. They also dry with beautiful seed heads that add structure and height to the garden year round. I plant more of these beauties every year.
Off you go - get your garden on, come Spring you will be happy you did!