Enjoy a colorful spring garden with flowering bulbs — even on a budget!
Bulbs are a great way to get lots of beautiful spring blooms. But for the big colorful show that most of us dream of, it takes a lot of bulbs. A big investment of time and money deserves dramatic impact and the knowledge that you won’t have to redo all of it every year!
Flowerbulbs.com horticulturist Peggy Anne Montgomery is a bulb aficionado (she even lived in the Netherlands for several years) and has some tips to ensure you’re doing all you can to maximize your investments.
Plant flower bulbs in the right spot
Many spring-blooming bulbs are Mediterranean natives so they do best with plenty of sun while they’re blooming and a long, dry summer dormancy. One big reason bulbs don’t return, even though they’re cold hardy, is that they rot from too much moisture. Here are some ways to prevent that:
Plant bulbs on a slope
Whether a slope is steep or gentle, water usually drains better there than on flat ground, so it’s the perfect spot to keep bulbs from getting waterlogged and rotting.
Look for low-water companions for bulbs
Once established, woody plants don’t need a lot of extra water, making them good bulb companions. Besides that, deciduous trees and shrubs often leaf out later, so allow plenty of sunlight to reach the bulbs while they’re growing.
In a perennial border, choose drought-tolerant companions, such as anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) and coreopsis (Coreopsis grandiflora). That way you can mostly leave the entire border alone in the summer instead of watering annuals and perennials to keep them going while at the same time overwatering the bulbs and causing them to rot.
Plant a bulb lawn
A great way to support early pollinators and get a lot of spring color is to plant bulbs in the lawn. Don’t these cheerful crocus (Crocus spp. and hybrids) in the photo above look great? Small bulbs, such as grape hyacinths (Muscari spp. and hybrids), snowdrops (Galanthus spp.), Siberian squill (Scilla siberica), miniature daffodils (Narcissus spp. and hybrids) and these crocuses give you big bang for your buck and can carpet your lawn with color.
Peggy Anne works with her husband, Dan, to plant bulbs in their lawn. They use a long auger to drill a hole (it’s a real back saver!), then drop in a bulb and a teaspoon of bulb fertilizer to get them off to a good start. These are usually small bulbs so to keep the impact high, Peggy Anne plants close and drops three of the same type in each hole.
Wait to cut back bulb foliage
We’ve always heard that the best practice to help bulbs return every year is to let the foliage completely ripen, or turn brown, as the tulips in the photo above have done. This allows the foliage to photosynthesize and feed the bulb.
However, preliminary data from a recent study on this topic by Cornell University indicates that the leaves may not have to ripen this much before you remove it. Good news for those of us who can’t wait to clean them up!
Get more flower bulbs with division
Lots of bulbs multiply easily, and division is a great way to get more of your favorites. Peggy Anne has big patches of snowdrops in her garden, and they’re easy to divide and spread around: As the foliage is turning brown, she digs up about half of the clump and replants it somewhere else.
Daffodils, crocus and grape hyacinth are all good multipliers that you can easily divide. Keep reading to meet Peggy Anne’s go-to bulbs for stretching your garden budget.
Tips for growing bulbs on a budget
Here’s how to stretch your garden budget with some smart bulb picks from Peggy Anne.
Plant tulips that keep coming back
While large tulips with unusual flowers or colorful patterns look great in bouquets, they don’t always come back every year. The types known as “species tulips” are your best bet for perennializing and may even spread if they’re growing in ideal conditions.
Try these species tulips
- Crocus tulip (Tulipa humilis)
- Greigii tulip (Tulipa greigii)
- Lady tulip (Tulipa clusiana)
- Late tulip (Tulipa tarda)
Grow critter-proof bulbs
It’s so frustrating when deer or rabbits eat the flower buds as they emerge in spring and when squirrels or voles dig up or eat the bulbs themselves! Luckily, there are several types that critters seem to avoid. Grow these bulbs and you can enjoy big beautiful sweeps like the daffodils above with no worries.
Try these bulbs critters tend to avoid
- Crocus (Crocus spp. and hybrids)
- Crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis)
- Daffodil (Narcissus spp. and hybrids)
- Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica)
- Summer snowflake (Leucojum spp.)
Plant flower bulbs that will multiply
When you want a lot of bulbs that you only have to pay for once, these are the ones to grow. This group spreads easily by reseeding or forming bulblets. Just leave them alone to do their thing or divide clumps and spread them around once they reach the size you want for that area.
Bulbs that multiply
- Daffodil (Narcissus spp. and hybrids)
- Grape hyacinth (Muscari spp. and hybrids)
- Grecian windflower (Anemone blanda)
- Snowdrops (Galanthus spp.)
Extend your bloom season with alliums
You can’t miss the dramatic globe-shaped blooms of alliums (Allium spp. and hybrids) in beds and borders. Not only are they long-lasting but once the petals drop, the seedheads dry in place. The sturdy stems stay standing, adding interest well into fall or even winter.
Alliums we recommend:
- ‘Ambassador’ (Allium hybrid)
- ‘Globemaster’ (Allium hybrid)
- ‘Mount Everest’ (Allium stipitatum)
- ‘Pinball Wizard’ (Allium hybrid)
Plant large-flowered bulbs for impact
Grow some of these tall and large-flowered bulbs to make a bigger splash with fewer bulbs.
Try these impressive bulbs
- Allium (Alliums spp. and hybrids)
- Amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp. and hybrids)
- Blood lily (Scadoxus multiflorus)
- Camassia (Camassia quamash) (pictured)
- Crinum (Crinum spp. and hybrids)