“When should I plant bulbs for spring blooms here in Kentucky?” Question from Karen of Cannon, Kentucky
Answer: Late September to early November is the best time to plant fall bulbs for spring in Kentucky. Just don’t wait until the soil surface freezes over. It always helps to amend beds before planting bulbs. It makes the soils easier to work. Also, be sure to have a planting knife or bulb planter on hand for fast planting.
Amending and Feeding Soil for Bulbs
For best bulb performance, amend your planting soil with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend and bonemeal. Both products will ensure that your bulbs will bloom and grow well. It is also essential to plant different bulbs at the correct recommended depths. If you plant bulbs too deeply or shallowly, they will not perform as well and may not even emerge, especially small bulbs. Just follow the package instructions.
Spring bulbs are for fall planting, and when you plan next spring’s garden palette, plant boldly with Parrot tulips. These bulbs were bred to impress. Each bloom has feathery, undulating petals in brilliant colors that look more tropical than temperate. Many a still life has detailed the artful beauty of these tulips.
Parrot Tulip Origins
Tulips made their way from the Middle East to Europe and quickly became flowers for rich nobles. Most breeding and selection happened in Holland, which is still the case today. When unusual tulips with broken colors began to appear in Dutch gardens in the 1630s, their popularity soared. These rare bulbs fueled Tulip Mania, a phenomenon where bulbs were purchased for sums equivalent of hundreds of thousands today. The mania crashed after a short couple of years–much to the financial woe of collectors. Since then, many modern-day hybrid divisions have been developed, such as Darwin, Triumph, Fringed, and Parrot tulips.
Today’s Parrot tulips have many of the same floral features of the Tulip-Mania types but are a result of selection and breeding rather than disease. They and can be traced to the 18th and 19th centuries, so they’re at home in both modern and heirloom gardens. Early Parrot varieties appeared as genetic sports (mutants) of standard tulips. For example, the award-winning Parrot ‘Rococo’(1942) appeared as a chance sport of the single early tulip ‘Couleur Cardinal’ (1845). In the mid-1970s, they discovered a genetic Parrot tulip, and through breeding, many new varieties appeared.
Parrot Tulips and Companions
Consider height and color when planning your Parrot-tulip-filled spring garden. These factors guide pairings for the most beautiful garden ensembles. All are cold hardy and bloom from mid to late spring. Here are just a few selections cultivars and companions from which to choose.
‘Apricot Parrot’ (16-18 inches): A mix of apricots, pinks, and greens exist in each scalloped, flamboyant blossom. The bright-yellow tulip ‘Strong Gold’ will highlight its apricot hues while the pretty pink tulip ‘Salmon Pearl’ will bring out its pinks. The white, orange-red-cupped daffodil ‘Barret Browning’ will blend well with the mix.
‘Amazing’ (18-22 inches): This tulip looks like a birthday party — the deeply feathered flowers of apricot and raspberry-pink are radiant. Its raspberry color is intensified by the deep-rose-pink tulip ‘Don Quichotte’. Flank the pair with the white and apricot-cupped daffodil ‘Chromacolor’.
Black and Purples
‘Black Parrot’ (20 inches): Bold fringe and deepest burgundy, purple, and near-black color make ‘Black Parrot’ stand out in the garden like night. The plum-red Triumph tulip ‘Bastogne’ will bring out its deep color while the pure-white daffodil ‘Snowboard’ will add a shock of white.
‘Blue Parrot’ (22 inches): Rather than blue, the wild, irregular flowers of ‘Blue Parrot’ are violet-purple with white tips. Pair this with orange and yellow ‘Daydream’ tulips.
‘Rococo’ (14 inches): This remarkable tulip has undulating, feathered flowers of deepest red marked with purple and green. The green, gold, and rose Viridiflora tulip ‘Golden Artist’ is a bold partner.
‘Green Wave’ (20 inches): Broad, green feathers mark the pink, deeply incised petals/tepals of this untamed tulip. As the flowers age, they open wide. The white Darwin hybrid ‘White Clouds’ is a safe pairing for such an exotic flower.
‘Pinkvision’ (18-20 inches): The pink, feathery flowers have small markings of green at the base. Plant them alongside the daffodil ‘Las Vegas’, which is ivory with large butter-yellow trumpets.
Reds and Oranges
‘Estella Rijnveld’ (20-22 inches): Bicolored flowers of white with broad feathers of red grace this 1954 variety. Plant the tall, lively tulip among the white Darwin hybrid ‘White Clouds’.
‘Bright Parrot’ (14 inches): Large, glowing red flowers of red with flaming yellow tips are borne on shorter plants. Plant it with the equally compact Narcissus ‘Actaea’, which is highly fragrant, pure white and has tiny orange-red-tipped yellow cups.
‘Flaming Parrot’ (22 inches): The award-winning tulip glows in the sunshine. It has bicolored yellow blooms with stripes of red down each petal/tepal. Pair it with another award-winner, the long-lasting, golden daffodil ‘Gigantic Star, which has huge, 5-inch flowers.
‘Carribean’ (16 inches): Here’s a beautifully bicolored Parrot of gold with fanned, red-feathered tips. The canary yellow daffodil ‘Unsurpassable’ is a perfect compliment.
‘White Parrot’ (18 inches): No Parrot tulip is just one color. These white blooms are feathered with green. Plant any spring bulb of the same height and bloom time alongside it.
Healthy tulip bulbs should be large, firm, and ivory with a papery covering. Any brown spotting, dry patches, or blue mold on the bulbs indicate poor health. These may underperform or rot. In this case, either return the bulbs or buy new.
Plant large tulips and daffodils 6 inches deep. A bulb planter or planting knife are handy tools for getting the job done quickly. Before planting, work the soil and add fertile amendments as needed. OMRI-listedBlack Gold Garden Compost, with its rich blend of compost, bark, and Canadian Sphagnum peat moss, will help your bulbs root quickly and grow well in spring.
At planting time, lay the bulbs out in the pattern you wish. Intermingle the bulb pairings evenly or in sweeps of single colors. Always plant them diagonally rather than in rows. In general, space them 6 inches apart. Fertilize with bone meal or fertilizer formulated for bulbs.
You will not believe the flamboyant party in your garden once mid- to late-spring arrives. You can also cut and bring your Parrots indoors for still-life-worthy flower arrangements.
“Other than hyacinths, which bulbs can I force in a hyacinth vase?” Question from Robin of Warner, New Hampshire
Answer: There are several factors to take into consideration when choosing bulbs to force in hyacinth vases. Only certain bulbs can be easily forced, in water, gravel, or soil, during the winter months. And, most require a chilling period before they are forced or sold for forcing–the paperwhite ‘Ziva’ is an exception. The easiest and most common bulbs for winter forcing, aside from hyacinths, include amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp., see video below), paperwhites and some daffodils (Narcissus spp.), crocus (Crocus spp.), grape hyacinths (Muscari spp.), netted irises (Iris reticulata) and some early tulips. But, not all are well-suited for vase forcing.
Bulbs must be of a certain size to be supported by a water-filled hyacinth vase. Hyacinth bulbs are large, and the plants don’t become too leggy if grown in direct or bright, filtered sunlight. So they are well-supported by the water-filled vases. Large crocus bulbs/corms can also be grown in hyacinth vases. There are also long-necked bulb vases that can accommodate taller bulbs, like amaryllis. Most other bulbs I would grow in vases with gravel at the base or in pots filled with growing medium, such as Black Gold All-Purpose Potting Mix, and topped with decorative sphagnum peat moss.
There’s something about miniature anything that draws kids, and every year my mini daffodils, ‘Minnow’, ‘Hawara’, and ‘Baby Moon’, just cry out to be picked by my children. They make the prettiest fairy bouquets and are easy-as-pie to grow, so this bulb-planting season I plan to add more!
What are Miniature Daffodils?
There are lots of daffodils and jonquils that are very tiny, but true miniatures are classified as having flowers smaller than 1.5 inches in diameter. (To learn more visit the American Daffodil Society website.) The cutest have wonderfully small flowers with even teenier coronas (central crowns). My standbys include the delicate ‘Minnow’, with its tiny gold corona and ivory petals, the nodding primrose-yellow ‘Hawara’ and nickel-sized ‘Baby Moon’, which is pure gold. All are easy to find and grow.
Miniature Daffodil Varieties
The fall bulb catalogs offer more of these delicate spring flowers. Must-haves include the golden ‘Mite’ with its reflexed petals and elongated corona and the sweet and unusual ‘New Baby’, which has a tiny bright yellow corona and ivory petals edged in yellow. The orange-cupped ‘Bittern’ is another fragrant, tiny beauty offered by the popular Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. Those wanting to have lots of different minis all at once might consider a miniature daffodil mix, like the one offered by Eden Brothers, which consists of five different unnamed varieties—all of which are complementary and sweet.
Planting Miniature Daffodils
As with any other spring bulb, plant these daffodils in fall before the ground becomes too cold to work. Small flowering bulbs should be planted closer together, around three to four inches apart in clusters or sweeps, alongside other complimentary plants such as grape hyacinth, crocus or compact species tulips. Just like any other daffodil, there are varieties that bloom in early, mid, and late spring, so be aware of this when planning planting companions to ensure that pairings bloom together.
Before planting, work the soil and add fertile amendments as needed. OMRI-listedBlack Gold Garden Compost, with its rich blend of compost, bark, and Canadian Sphagnum peat moss, will help your bulbs quickly root and grow in spring. Plant each bulb five inches below the surface and fertilize with a food formulated for bulbs. Bulb fertilizer can be added as a light top-dressing when plants begin to bloom in spring.
When your flowers bloom in spring, it is nice to make tiny fairy arrangements in small, brightly colored vases. These little daffodils look beautiful alongside tiny blue scilla and fragrant grape hyacinth as well as small species tulips (the mid-season ‘Lilac Wonder’ is a favorite) and brightly colored violas. Choose any container, small bottles, vases or jars, and fill them up!
If you are like me, there’s always an element of surprise when you plant something new in fall for spring. It always seems like magic when they pop up from the ground and bloom perfectly as planned. Miniature daffodils offer an additional element of fun to the surprise, for you and any little ones in your life.
From each fall-blooming crocus flower emerges three red, precious strands. These are elongated stigmas (female flower parts) otherwise known as saffron—an extraordinarily expensive aromatic spice popular in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Indian cooking. Continue reading “Just Wild About Saffron”
If you dream of the Dutch fields full of perfect tulips but find your fall-planted bulbs disappointing come spring, then maybe your bulbs are just hungry. While bulbs are rather self-contained little packages, the one thing they can use during the long winter is phosphorus and lots of it. This macro-nutrient drives root growth which helps your bulbs become better established come bloom time. The age-old organic way to get it is with bone meal. Dig your hole, then loosen the soil at the bottom, add one tablespoon of bone meal and mix well. Then set your big, juicy tulip bulb onto this soft enriched earth and cover it up. For smaller bulbs use a half tablespoon. Remember, this nutrient doesn’t move much so if you don’t put it down there, roots won’t find it.
If you have any gorgeous, red amaryllis left over from the holidays, treat it well and it will reward you with blooms again next year. After the current flower fades, cut the stem off at the base but leave any newly forming leaves to remain. The foliage carries on photosynthesis to store energy in the bulb before it goes dormant.
Move the potted bulb to new sunny location and keep it adequately watered until the leaves die back naturally. Then remove the bulb from its pot, clip off all residual roots and leaves, then store it in your refrigerator. Replant in new pots next fall with Black Gold All Purpose Potting Soil.
We rarely blend bulbs with food plants, but they make a great pick-me-up for off season gardens. I found this lovely garden in Germany, where they’d laid out a traditional four square design, but when not planted, this geometry doesn’t show. These smart gardeners elected to plant small bulbs in line to emphasize the design with foliage and flowers before it warms enough to plant the early spring crops. Don’t forget to plant them with Black Gold Bone Meal for a phosphorus-enriched root zone. (Please note that Black Gold Bone Meal has been discontinued.)
Here in the Pacific Northwest, autumn is certainly here. Temperatures are cooler, rains have begun (hopefully not continuously), and plants are beginning to show signs that their season is over. This is a wonderful time to visit an arboretum, if you have one, and absorb some of the fall colors. It is also an opportunity to visit your local garden center and see what is still looking good. You might be surprised at the color awaiting you even at this late date.
In my own garden, several plants are putting on a wonderful show of color. I am always interested in trying new plants and a new Salvia for me this year was ‘Wendy’s Wish’. With a flower color that is hard to describe, I would call it a deep rose (see photo), this has been in bloom in my garden all summer and has shown no signs of stopping. I have it growing in a pot in almost full sun and it is a hummingbird magnet.
A plant that is usually treated as an annual here and does not come into flower until late August or September is Leonotis leonurus (Lion’s Tail). As I am writing this (October), it is in full bloom with more flower buds ready to open. The flowers appear on long stems in whorls with the lower whorls opening first and then continuing upward. The flowers are covered in a sort of furry coat of fine hairs and are a rusty orange. Because of the color, this is a great flower for fall Halloween arrangements. Give it sun and plant toward the back of a flower bed since plants can reach 6 feet in height.
For autumn color from a tree, I was recently given a spindle tree (Euonymus planipes) and the leaf color is astounding (see photo). In addition to the spectacular leaves, there are deep rose-colored fruits opening to reveal orange seeds. Quite often the leaves will drop leaving the fruits against the bare branches. This is a small tree/large shrub, very easy to grow, and I would suggest planting it where you can enjoy the fall colors as the spring flowers are not particularly showy and the real beauty is this time of year.
Potted Spring Bulbs
In addition to enjoying what is around us, we should be thinking ahead to spring. A great idea is to plant bulbs in a pot and ‘layer’ them, then plant winter blooming pansies on the surface. While this might sound difficult, it is not. What you will need:
Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Soil
Bulbs (tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocus)
Black Gold Bone Meal
When purchasing bulbs, be sure to buy a large size and press each one before planting to make sure it is firm and not soft. Bulbs can be placed quite close together; just do not let them in direct contact with each other. This is in case one would rot and by not having them in contact, the rot would not spread to the others. Most of the spring blooming bulbs; tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, crocus, etc. are quite winter hardy and will survive being outdoors in a container. Make sure the pot is in a location where it will get rain.
Start by adding 5-6 inches of Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Soil. Add bone meal and mix together with the soil. Then add tulips. In the example shown, I used red tulips. Then cover with soil and mix this new soil with bone meal. Then I added white daffodils. Cover these and then plant something that will give color during the winter. In my example, I used winter pansies. As you can see from the photo, they are in bloom and will continue flowering all winter. Then around the inside rim of the pot, I planted a circle of crocus.
The combination of bulbs to use is endless. You could easily add a layer of hyacinths or multiple layers of tulips. If using tulips, check the package information and get several different blooming dates. For example, the package should indicate if the particular tulip is early, mid-season, or late. Having some of all three will extend the blooming season in the spring. If pansies are not your choice, ornamental winter kale and/or ornamental cabbage are other options for providing color during the fall season.
This idea of ‘layering’ is also a great project to do with children. They can help mix the soil, plant the bulbs (and learn that flowers come from bulbs) and then plant the pansies.
Do not wait too long before checking out your local garden center for fall color, or tending to your fall planting. Once we have a frost and cold weather, many plants will lose their leaves and you will not be able to see them in all their autumn glory will be lost for another year.