Plants - Flower Bulbs

Choose the right spring bulbs for your garden

How to pick the best specimens for a bloom-filled spring show

Want to plan ahead to banish those end-of-winter blahs? Plant spring bulbs! These cheerful harbingers of sunshine and warmth are easy to grow. Nonetheless, some tips are helpful.

Flower bulbs come in all shapes and sizes—as do the plants they produce. Consider tulips, for instance. They can be dwarf or tall, while flowers sport wildly different shapes and colours. Some have feathery petals (parrots), others feature bunches of blooms on single stems. There are bulbs that produce short blooms such as crocus, snowdrops, grape hyacinths, chionodoxa and scilla. Others, like hyacinths and daffodils, can be tiny or tall. Amid all this choice, how can we choose?

Consider your space
A primary consideration is space. Do you have space for a cluster of tall daffodils beneath a tree? Do you have a rock garden that’s ideal for crocus, or dwarf daffodils and tulips? Can you plant a staggered collection of varied heights of flowers? Would you like to plant crocus or daffodils in your lawn? Instead of settling one type of bulb, mix up your beds with a variety of shapes, textures, heights, fragrances and colours.

Reconcile your garden’s conditions with your bulb requirements
“Soil must have good drainage because bulbs don’t grow well in soggy conditions,” explains Amy Dube, a flower bulb specialist and spokesperson for Dig.Drop.Done, a bulb-planting resource aimed at demystifying gardening with bulbs. Dube also recommends checking your soil. If it’s sandy or clay, “you should mix in organic materials such as peat moss or compost.”

Spring bulbs need full sun or partial shade. No worries, however, if you have deciduous trees and shrubs. Because they leaf later in spring, bulbs planted beneath them receive enough sunshine to flower. For example, in 1990, I planted snowdrops at the verge of my lilac bushes. Every spring, their white blossoms are the first flowers to emerge at Spiritwood. Bonus? They spread beautifully!

Choosing healthy bulbs
Dube recommends a three-step approach to choosing healthy specimens:
  • Look: Take a peek at the bulbs in the bag to ensure you don’t see any mildew or mould on the bulbs. Also, if you notice some nicks in them, or loose skin (the tunic), do not worry as both are okay.
  • Feel: Touch the bulbs to ensure they are firm, not mushy. Soft bulbs are sure signs of rotting.
  • Size: Larger bulbs produce large blooms. Try to choose the largest size bulb available for each type.

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