There are fewer spring bulbs for hummingbirds, but those that attract them are spectacular. The California native firecracker flower (Dichelostemma ida-maia), which blooms in May or June, is especially unique and pretty. The standard form is red, but ‘Pink Diamond‘ has deep pinkish-purple flowers. Orange-red crown imperials (Fritillaria imperialis ‘Rubra Maxima’) are also outstanding spring bulbs that hummingbirds enjoy. The tall, bold flowers bloom in late spring as hummingbirds start visiting the garden. Finally, late-spring blooming foxtail lilies (Eremerus hybrids) are visited by both hummingbirds and bees. They produce tall wands of pink, orange, or yellow flowers. Plant their bulbs in very well-drained soil amended with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend.
“Winter is not over, but we have had warm spells. Daffodils are already pushing up. Will another hard freeze kill them?” Question from Richard of Winston Salem, North Carolina
Answer: You need not worry. It is not uncommon to see blooming bulbs in the snow, daffodils included. That’s because most of these early bulbs are very tough and resilient to spring cold snaps. It would have to get into the teens or even single digits Fahrenheit to really do emerging spring bulbs serious damage. So, let them be and emerge in their own time. They will bloom and flower for you with no trouble.
“Could you please tell me the name of this flower? It’s a perennial and has spread some.” Question from Ray of Boliver, New York
Answer: You are the lucky owner of a population of very pretty bulbs called striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides). This early spring flowers naturally spread but are not invasive. The blue-striped blooms are very attractive to early bees and have a delicately sweet scent if you pick one and take a sniff. Once the bulbs flower, they will set seed by mid to late spring, then the foliage will dry and disappear until the following spring.
I love this little flower and have it in my own garden planted beneath early daffodils. Striped squill pairs well with many other early bulbs, and is very no-care. Enjoy them!
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.
“How do you keep spring bulbs from rotting?” Question from Pam of Fort Worth, Texas
Answer: There are several reasons your spring bulbs could be rotting. Here are a few possibilities and solutions.
Warm Zone Spring Bulbs
Your USDA Hardiness Zone 8 location is just on the edge of spring bulb-growing country. Most old-fashioned, cherished spring bulbs, like standard crocus, daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips, won’t survive in zones warmer than 8. This is because they require the chill of winter over a certain period of time to complete their life cycle. If winters are too warm and short, spring bulbs can decline and eventually rot.
Bulb soils must be fertile, raised, and amended with quality soil amendments, like Sphagnum peat moss and compost. Larger bulbs are generally planted 6-8 inches deep, and they will not tolerate excess moisture at the root zone. Too much moisture will encourage bulb rot.
Certain fungal and bacterial diseases will also cause bulb rot. Be sure that the bulbs you plant are firm, healthy, and show no signs of damage or rot. Cool, wet weather and saturated soils encourage these diseases.
There’s something magical about a pot of spring flowers on the front step, porch, patio, or balcony. The colors, the fragrance, and just the act of getting our hands in the soil nurtures us gardeners as we reconnect with nature and start the new growing season.
Spring Container Plants
It used to be that pansies and violas were the only annuals available for spring pots, but today the choices are nearly endless. The options for cool-season annuals have exploded beyond pansies, with colorful bloomers like snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus), nemesia (Nemesia hybrids), stocks (Matthiola incana), and bedding pinks (Dianthus hybrids) to join the seasonal selections. Spring-ready perennial, shrubs, trees, and bulbs of various types are now available, to include primroses (Primula hybrids), lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.) miniature roses, and ranunculus (Ranunculus hybrids) as well as forced daffodils, tulips, crocus, grape hyacinths, and hyacinths. Look for these plants at independent garden centers, big box stores, nurseries, and even the local grocery store.
Even with so many new options available, I cannot resist filling my spring pots with tried-and-true pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) and violas (Viola cornuta hybrids). There are differences between the two, even though they are both related. Pansy flowers are larger, about the size of a 50-cent coin, while viola flowers are smaller, more the size of a quarter, and more numerous. Pansy blooms feature that familiar blotched face with whisker-like markings; viola flowers have similar markings. Each is fragrant. Pansies look and bloom best when their spent flowers are removed, a practice called deadheading. Violas do not need to be deadheaded and continue to bloom well into summer for longer than pansies.
Pansies and violas look great in just about any mixed container. This year, I mixed mine with forced daffodils and hyacinths, stocks, ranunculus, and cut pussywillow branches. Before compiling my containers, I selected and prepared my containers and mix for good looks and performance.
Spring Container Preparation
For a spring planting, use any large container with good drainage that’s made of a material able to withstand spring’s temperature swings. Use an outdoor container, one you stowed away for the season or bought new. If the soil is frozen in your outdoor containers, move them to a heated space for a couple of days to allow them to thaw.
Pots already filled with mix should have the top third removed and replaced with fresh, high-quality mix, such as Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix or Black Gold® Cocoblend Potting Mix, which are formulated for container gardening. If starting with empty pots, fill them to the top, leaving several inches of top space for planting and watering.
Black Gold potting mixes are lightweight, friable, and specially blended to promote good drainage and root development. This year I used Black Gold All Purpose Potting Mix, which has the benefit of added fertilizer to feed plants for up to 6 months. Always choose good potting mix for containers rather than soil from the garden, which is dense, heavy, and may have insects or diseases that will damage plants in a container.
Then it’s time to choose your flowers. I pick plants with complementary bloom times and color suites, and I often nest moss around my spring plantings to make them look prettier.
Spring Plant Selection & Planting Tips
Choosing the best flowers at the garden center takes some know-how, as does planting for full effect. Here are eight smart tips I rely upon when preparing my spring container plantings:
When shopping for forced bulbs or spring flowers, select plants with flower buds that are still tight and just barely showing color. The tighter the buds, the longer they will flower.
If buying pansies, violas or snapdragons in 4- or 6-cell packs, plant two or three in one hole rather than individually. This ensures a nice mass of flowers and fuller look right away.
For an even fuller look, buy spring annuals in 4- or 6-inch pots. Each pot will have one large plant or three or four smaller ones. Plant each as one plant.
Dianthus, stocks, and ranunculus tend to be slightly larger plants sold in larger cells. Cluster a couple together for a greater mass, if desired.
Don’t worry too much about plant tags that say “full sun”, if your landscape is shady. Early in the season, most trees and shrubs have not leafed out, so there’s usually enough light for contained plantings.
Pick up birch branches in your yard or buy some at a garden center. Spray paint them spring colors, or a hue similar to the trim on your home, and add them to accent in your pot.
Buy (or cut your own) pussy willow branches to add height and texture in your pots. These are usually available seasonally at garden centers or florist’s shops. These will remain attractive until the buds have broken and dried out. (Sometimes the branches even root in the pot!)
Choose lightweight bags of potting mix with no bag tears or damage. An earlier manufacture date means fresher mix!
Potted gardens add character and definition to porch and patio spaces. Spring compositions are the most joyous being the first plantings of the season, so make them memorable with mix-and-match bulbs and perennials. Contrast plant colors, textures and heights as well as creating pleasing potted landscapes with a selection of different containers. Fertilize with organic fertilizer formulated for flowers for best blooming results.