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Weekend Life

Learning to Grow: Minor bulbs that should make it to the majors

Snowdrops perform best in a partly shaded area, making them a perfect choice for a woodland or shady rock garden.
Snowdrops perform best in a partly shaded area, making them a perfect choice for a woodland or shady rock garden.

It’s bulb season. Boxes of brightly colored tulip and daffodil bulbs line garden center shelves. Crates are filled with these plump promises of harbingers of spring. I do admire these bulbs – so much so, it is difficult to decide which new varieties I should add to my landscape each fall.

But I LOVE the “minor” bulbs, referred to as minor because of their small size, both in bulb and flower.
They are so easy to plant – a good jab into the soil with a trowel is all the effort needed.

In spring, they blanket the winter-worn ground with a carpet of color.

Here are a few of my favorites.

• Grape hyacinths. My landscape wouldn’t be complete without grape hyacinths. Their fragrant flowers look like upside-down bunches of grapes on 6-inch spikes.

They form lovely drifts carpeting the spaces beneath shrubs and between perennials.

Plant grape hyacinth bulbs 3 inches deep and apart in sun or part shade.

As much as I love their spring bloom, I appreciate grape hyacinths even more for their usefulness in autumn. Whenever I plant tulips, daffodils or alliums, I throw a few grape hyacinths in the planting holes, too. Because they send up their foliage in the fall, they serve as garden markers to remind me where my larger bulbs are planted, reducing the chance I will accidentally drive a shovel into previously planted bulbs when planting new ones.

• Siberian squill. Also known as Scilla siberica, it is best planted in large numbers to show off their intense color.

The electric blue flowers bloom over grass-like foliage and reach about 6 inches tall as they naturalize freely. Plant these bulbs 3 or 4 inches deep and apart in a sunny or partly shady spot with rich, well-drained soil. Siberian squill even grows nicely under evergreen trees.

• Snowdrops. Snowdrops are the first bulbs to bloom in my gardens. Delicate, nodding, bell-shaped white flowers often push their way through the snow. Snowdrops are unappealing to rodents – quite a benefit if you have to protect your bulbs from squirrels or chipmunks. They perform best in part shade making them the perfect choice for a woodland or shady rock garden. Plant them 2 to 4 inches deep and apart.

• Crocuses. Crocuses are another welcome favorite in the spring. Brightly colored cup-shaped flowers open over grass-like foliage. There are varieties available in striped and solid colors in a large range of brilliant colors from glistening white and sunny yellow to deep velvety purple. Depending on the type, they grow 3 to 6 inches tall.

Excellent for naturalizing, lovely in rock gardens, or grouped at the bases of trees or shrubs, crocuses should be planted 2 inches apart and 4 inches deep in a sunny site with well-drained soil.

Don’t forget the minor bulbs while you are loading up your shopping basket with the bulbs of tulips and daffodils. They deserve a major place in your landscape.

• Diana Stoll is a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener for Kane County. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information.

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