7 tips on how to shop for flower bulbs
1. use animal-resistant bulbs
Tired of waking up in spring to beheaded tulips and disappearing crocus? Shop for animal-resistant flower bulbs such as alliums (that’s Allium caeruleum up top) and Eranthis hyemalis (below) and others instead. Animal-resistant bulbs.
2. try bulbs for the shade garden
Is your garden (like mine) a place of increasing shade as trees and shrubs mature? Some bulbs, including bluebells and certain species lilies and more, can manage in light shade. Bulbs for a bit of shade.
3. add extra-early blooming bulbs
Minor (mostly small) bulbs like winter aconite and snowdrops and crocus, among others, can add to the early season display, extending your garden’s bloom time many weeks earlier than the official start of spring. Heirloom bulb expert and Old House Gardens founder Scott Kunst recommends these little guys to extend the season backward.
4. remember: early, middle and late
One of my gardening mantras: early, middle, late. (Repeat after me!) To achieve a long show of many kinds of flowering plants (including lilacs, daffodils or tulips, daylilies, peonies and more) you need to choose carefully from among the many species and varieties in the genus, not selecting just for color or size, but for bloom time. Nowhere is this more important than with bulbs. Nearly two months of daffodils are possible if you plan right, and almost that long or even longer with the rest. Good bulb catalogs note which portion of the bloom season that plant covers (extra-early versus early or midseason or late Narcissus, for instance) right there on the page, grouping choices in a helpful manner.
5. mix it up; be daring
Try something new. Go ahead—order a flowering bulb you’ve never grown before. I dare you. (I’m eyeing the Eremurus, or foxtail lilies, at the moment. Uh-oh.) And don’t be stingy with the numbers of each thing; order more than you usually do for greater impact, like 5 not 1 or 10 not 5, not so many lonely onesies. If we don’t widen our palettes as gardeners and plant a little more lavishly, how will we ever grow? Two experts from the daring, artistic garden called Chanticleer in Pennsylvania encouraged me to use bulbs with an adventurous hand (find those stories here).
6. compare prices, but read the fine print
Prices may vary widely from catalog to catalog, but don’t be fooled. Some deals in mass-market catalogs are too good to be true. Be sure to read the fine print about what size bulb you’ll be receiving. My list of preferred bulb vendors (and note that a lot of those catalogs that just show up in your mailbox that you never ordered are not on it!). Another budget tip: Naturalizing mixtures (a blend of bulb varieties, such as many different Narcissus) can be good value if you want a less-formal but massed look.