Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
November, 2010
Regional Report

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Snowdrops make a lovely show in the mid-winter garden when planted in groups of ten or more.

Tiny Bulbs Offer Great Rewards

While there are many delights yet to unfold in the autumn garden, my thoughts have already turned to spring. Good bulbs last on store shelves no longer than Christmas decorations, and many have already been snapped up by the most prudent shoppers.

Last year I binged on bulbs, purchasing hundreds of daffodils in bulk. It was an exercise in false economy, however, as I became overwhelmed with the task of planting golf ball-sized orbs that required six-inch spacing. Ultimately, many were given to gardening friends. This year, I'm taking a new approach. If I can't control the numbers, I'll do better by limiting myself to the minor bulbs.

Though tiny, these gems hold the promise of great rewards in the winter and spring garden. They're not only beautiful but also hardy and tenacious. They rarely decline in vigor, and once established, many will multiply by self-sowing or producing offsets. Marble-sized bulbs produce small flowers, however, so placement is critical. Grow them near walkways or other busy areas where their delicate beauty will be appreciated.

The minor bulbs should be planted both shallower and closer together than their larger cousins, so soil preparation is less taxing. Give them good drainage, nearly neutral pH, and plant them as soon as possible (at least by the end of the year).

Be careful to situate them right side up. Most are shaped like a tear drop, with a flat bottom and a pointed top, but smaller bulbs can be less pronounced in shape. When in doubt, plant them sideways and they will turn upright as they grow.

If you're at a loss on what to choose, consider these favorites for Middle South gardens:

Blue squill (Scilla siberica)
Elizabeth Lawrence wrote, "The most intense blues of all are found in the flowers of Scilla sibirica...that blooms so early in the year and looks so brilliant against the rain-darkened earth." Blue squills (also commonly called Siberian squills) are good woodland or rock garden plants, naturalizing and spreading without division. Bloom time: late winter or early spring; flower color: blue; height: four to six inches; planting depth: four inches; spacing: two to four inches.

Grape hyacinth (Muscari neglectum)
M. neglectum, an old grape hyacinth found naturalized throughout the South, has characteristics that distinguish it from other varieties that are likely to dwindle away and require replacing every few years. Color is blackish-blue with lighter blue tips and tiny, white-rimmed mouths on the lowest florets. Bloom time: late winter or early spring; flower color: blue; height: six to eight inches; planting depth: four inches; spacing: two to four inches.

Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa luciliae)
Chinodoxa needs a winter cold period to flower, so don't select this bulb if you live in warmer coastal areas. It may also fail when placed in competition with tree roots. Proper site selection is rewarded with an abundance of star-shaped blue flowers highlighted with white centers. Bloom time: late winter; flower color: blue; height: four to six inches; planting depth: four inches; spacing: one to three inches.

Naples garlic (Allium neapolitanum)
Like other ornamental garlics, the foliage of this bulb emits a pungent scent, but the flowers themselves offer a sweet perfume. Each bloom head displays as many as thirty white star-shaped flowers. Bloom time: spring; flower color: white; height: twelve to fourteen inches; planting depth: two to three inches; spacing: plant in groups three to six inches apart.

Windflower (Anemone coronaria)
These Mediterranean bulbs are vigorous growers, come in a wide range of colors, and make good cut flowers. Look for the single petaled De Caen strain, or the double St. Bridgid group. Tubers look lifeless, but an overnight soak in fresh water before planting restores plumpness and vitality. Bloom time: late spring; flower color: white, crimson, pink, violet, and lavender; height: ten to twelve inches; planting depth: four inches; spacing: four inches.

Tommies (Crocus tommasinianus)
One of the best crocus species for the Middle South, C. tommasinianus is especially congenial, with amethyst flowers that appear over a long season. Bloom time: late winter; flower color: violet; height: three to six inches; planting depth: four inches; spacing: two to four inches.

Giant Snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii)
This species is better suited to our region than the common snowdrop (G. nivalis), has larger flowers, and blooms a little earlier. Plant in groups of ten or more. Bloom time: mid winter; flower color: white; height: eight to ten inches; planting depth: three to four inches; spacing: three inches.

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