Nothing delights the winter-weary eye more than cheery spring-flowering bulbs. If you plant them according to the directions, they'll brighten your landscape long before other flowers are in season. With proper post-bloom care, these bulbs will continue to blossom for many years.
If you bought your home with the flowers intact, you may need a garden encyclopedia or some colorful seed and nursery catalogs to help you identify the spring flowers. Once identified, however, you can care for the bulbs to lengthen their blooming years.
Allium is recognized by flowering globes that are balanced on stiff stems. They may grow from 9 inches to 5 feet tall. Many varieties of allium are grown throughout the United States. The most common colors for spring-flowering allium are purple, reddish pink, yellow, or white. the balls of flowers may be 6 to 12 inches in diameter.
You can leave allium bulbs in place for many years. If they seem to become crowded or produce small flowers, you should dig them up, separate the bulbs, and replant them.
Anemone, or windflower, blooms at a height of 5 to 12 inches. The daisylike blossoms are red, blue, white, pink, or purple. In most areas they bloom in March or April. These tubers may be left in place for two or three years before being replanted.
Glory-of-the-snow, or chionodoxa, gives a silvery white, pink, or blue bloom so early that it is often found blossoming in the snow. It grows 4 to 5 inches tall and should not be disturbed for five to eight years, after which time it usually becomes too crowded.
Crocus come in many varieties. Usually the blooms are found on 4-or 5-inch stems. The corms can be left in place for many years. When the blossoming seems to subside, dig the corms and reset them 3 to 6 inches apart. These early flowers are one of the most common of the spring-flowering bulbs and can be identified by the tulip-shaped flowers in yellow, white, blue, purple, and striped varieties.
Galanthus, or snowdrops, push their snow-white blossoms out onto 6-inch stems as early as January. These tiny bulbs dont't really mind if they touch one another, so it's best to leave them undisturbed.
A more delicate spring-flowering bulb is the hyacinth. The showy, formal flowerets grow close together along the stem. The spikes of flowers range from 6 to 12 inches tall. The flowers tend to become smaller each year. After seven years, when the flowers grow too small for satisfaction, dig up the bulbs and discard them.
The bulbs bruise too easily to attempt transplanting them. You can buy hyacinth in many shades of yellow, rose, blue, and purple, as well as white.
Iris, the orchidlike flower that everyone can afford, grows from tall (2 to 2 1/2 feet) to dwarf and the fragrant varieties, from 3 to 12 inches. Iris come in many colors. The tall varieties may be left in place for two or three years. Then the bulbs should be dug and replanted in clusters to ensure a thick growth the first year. The dwarf varieties are too small to dig and replant.
Grape hyacinth, the tiny grapelike clusters of purple flowwers that grow 6 to 8 inches tall, are also too small to survive handling and replanting. If they seem to become too crowded, lift a few bulbs out here and there to give the others more space.
Narcissus and daffodils belong to the same family. These usually become crowded in three or four years. They may be dug and replanted at that time.
Scilla, the little pink, white, or blue bells that blossom in May or June, should not be replanted. The bulbs last for many years and, when they fail to produce good blooms, should be replaced with new bulbs.
Tulips do better if dug every three years and discarded. Replacing them with new bulbs ensures good-size blooms and true colors.
The care of spring-flowering bulbs begins when the plants begin to bloom. Fertilizing them lightly with 5-10-10 fertilizer, applying no more than one pound for a 5-by-10-foot flower bed, will strengthen the bulbs. Keep the fertilizer away from the roots and leaves, as it can burn them.
Bone meal may also be applied, but too much at one time can cause the bulbs to decay. Decay is less likely with bone meal, however, than with other nitrogen fertilizers, since bone meal releases the nitrogen slowly. Three pounds of meal for a 5-by-10-foot bed is plenty to ensure good blooms. Work the bone meal into the soil around the plants.
Remove weeds from the flower bed by hand-pulling them. This method prevents damage to the roots or stems of your plants.
After they bloom, do not cut the stems of plants. When you cut flowers, always leave as much leaf as possible on the plant. Leave the foliage on spring-flowering bulbs until it turns yellow. Then, cut and destroy the dead leaves and stems so they will not harbor insects and diseases.
Bulbs need the stems and leaves of the plant to nurture the flowers that will bloom next year. Any bulbs you dig before the leaves turn yellow are useless.
In cold areas you can leave most kinds of spring- flowering bulbs in the ground for several years. When the bulbs become crowded, you can dig them and store them for replanting in the fall.
In warm areas bulbs should be dug each year and discarded. Spring-flowering bulbs seldom flower well a second year in hot climates.
If you are digging them for replanting in the fall, be sure the bulbs have matured. The leaves of the plants should have turned yellow and the bulb coats should be tan or brown. Spring flowers are so exciting that they're worth the bit of care they require.