Are you ready to think about springtime? If not, switch gears, because through October garden centers are filled with stunning spring-blooming bulb displays. Crate after crate, bin after bin of many bulb varieties hold the promise of colorful, fragrant early spring gardens. Faced with autumn's bulb selections, ex-
perienced gardeners are like kids in a candy shop with too many choices. For novice gardeners, determining which bulbs to use and where to plant them can be confusing; but because of the high success rates with bulbs, beginners should approach them with confidence.
In a previous column I discussed how to pick the absolute best bulbs as they arrive at garden centers.
However, following that article, many customers have been asking which bulbs are the best varieties to plant in our area. So this week I'm going to share my favorites of the best.
Let's start with the best bulbs that make a show in late February and March, depending on where you are in the mountains of Arizona.
The dwarf iris, I. reticulata, only six inches tall, produces beautiful, fragrant flowers in mixed shades of blue. Ideal in hard clay soils, containers and rock gardens, these little beauties have the added bonus that all irises share: javalina do not like them.
Crocus bulbs produce flowers in shades of purple and white. These low-growing flowers are sure to pop up even through a layer of snow. Best when mass-planted in sunny locations, they create a carpet-like effect. They look great emerging up through ground covers, including low spreading
Daffodils, also called narcissus in many parts of the country, are available in so many choices. Local wildlife will not eat them so plant daffodils anywhere in the yard. Endless choices of colors, fragrances, flower shapes, and single or multiple blooms per stem are just some of the many options presented by this popular bulb. Growing to a foot high, they are easily and diversely used in rock gardens, containers, mass plantings, and borders. Also, they can be forced for your indoor winter enjoyment and make striking gifts at holiday time. I have hundreds in my spring gardens because these charmers definitely are one of my favorites.
Grape hyacinths, muscari, come in blues, whites and combinations of those colors. Although they have mere 6-inch stems, these little bulbs are very showy and best enjoyed when planted with other bulbs. Use them at the leading edges of raised beds and containers, or along walkways and entryways. I really like these bulbs because they multiply and spread so well in the landscape.
The much larger hyacinths, hyacinthus, are famous for their fragrance so plant them where you can catch the scent. When planted in groups of three to five bulbs, these 8-inch high show pieces reward us with the most eye-catching displays. Hyacinth blooms are found in almost every color and the bulbs are fun to plant. They are easy to force and their glorious fragrance makes them favorites in a bowl for your living room or to gift to a friend.
April brings out tulips, the most famous of all bulbs. They come in myriad choices of color, shape and flower type. My favorite container combination is tulips planted under a mass of pansies. Pansies provide winter-long blooms, and the eruption of tulip blooms from a mass of pansy blossoms is a spring surprise that never fails to delight me. The documented arch enemies of any tulip are javalina, so keep tulips on decks and patios or refer to the previous garden column to learn how to best protect them.
Fritillaria, or Crown Imperial, is deserving of its common name. Clusters of orange, red and yellow bell-shaped flowers are perched atop 2-foot tall stems. You might prefer these attention-getting bright blooms towards the back of flowerbeds or in border gardens where grouping together three to five bulbs results in a very impressive display.
May is the month when the most impressive of all bulbs makes its appearance. With its large round softball-sized heads of purple florets, the giant allium, A. giganteum, is spectacular. Reaching a height of 5-feet or more, this showy flower looks great in borders and makes an even greater impression when planted in containers. Possibly, because it's related to the onion family, local wildlife pests don't fancy this unusual beauty on their menus. The more sun the better for this large bulb so it's a natural for our mountain areas.
Plant any of these bulbs as you clean up your summer gardens. Spring blooming bulbs are the only perennial bulbs that survive each year to reemerge the next season, so plant them where you wouldn't mind seeing them again.
We have 1-1/2 months of growing season left for heat-loving flowers, but this is also the best time to plug in your winter color. Blooming winter flowers are welcome garden highlights after the first hard freezes in November. Try planting pansies, violas, dusty miller and kale right over the bulbs you've just added to your garden. A beautiful spring sight is some of the larger snapdragons between clusters of planted bulbs.
One of my favorite small shrubs for maximum show through Thanksgiving is the carpet rose. I just planted six more of these perennial workhorses in my back yard because of their hardiness, continuous bloom, and limited demand for care. These are my kind of plants. This knee-high rose spreads like a 4-foot carpet of deep reds, pure white, apple blossom and brilliant yellows. It has almost no disease or bug problems and no pruning is needed to produce the next set of flowers.
Just add carpet roses to the drip system and feed regularly for blooms that start in April and
last until the depths of winter. Water them just like the rest of your trees and shrubs and you can expect dependable blooming from these top performers. Garden centers have them in stock and in full bloom now through October.
Our fall planting season is here with its comfortable temperatures conducive to working outdoors, so consider adding spring-flowering bulbs along with carpet roses to improve your landscape.
Until next week, I'll see you at the garden center.
Ken Lain is the owner of Watters Home and Garden Center and is an Arizona Certified Nursery Professional and Master Gardener.