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Between the Rows: Plan now for early spring bloomers

  • The delicate Scillas can turn an April lawn into a reflection of the sky. For The Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • The snowdrops in Heath liked blooming in front of a low stone wall where they gathered a bit of warmth in early April. For The Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • The crocuses on the Bridge of Flowers get lots of sun and warmth in early April. For The Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Pat Leuchtman



For The Recorder
Friday, September 08, 2017

Crocuses, scillas and snowdrops are three of the earliest spring bloomers in the garden or lawn. You have to start thinking about planting them in the fall if you want them to bloom in the spring.

I planted very few crocuses while living in Heath, but now that I am living in town with a sidewalk next to the front lawn and conifer bed, I feel I must add color to this spot. I have been looking through the catalogs, where I can find white crocus with golden hearts, crocus in all shades of yellow and gold and crocus in pale to deep purple.

There is also a category of small crocuses properly named, “tommasinianus,” and more lovingly called, “tommies.”

Some consider these the ideal crocus to plant in the lawn, because their foliage is finer and less likely to offend people who like to keep their lawns very neat. The foliage of any bulb needs to ripen — it should be left to its own schedule — by gathering sunlight, which will feed the bulb for good blooming the following year.

Crocuses, and all the little bulbs, can be planted in beds that are cared for with fertilizers and watering, but these beds are a little more likely to attract hungry squirrels. The advantage to planting any crocus in the lawn is that squirrels tend not to search them out in the grass. However, if you are going to plant crocuses in the lawn, then the lawn should not be fertilized or watered, because this will likely make the grass too vigorous and overcome the little crocus bulbs.

The crocus, in its many sizes and colors, may be the first early bloomer we think of, but scillas, also known as Siberian squills, have dainty blue flowers that can live happily in a lawn and turn it into a reflection of the blue spring sky.

I love snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, tiny white nodding flowers with a drop of green on three of the six petals. They are about 6 inches high and will naturalize and spread nicely. Because the blossoms are so small, it is best to plant them where you will be able to see and enjoy that early bloom.

Snowdrops are not to be confused with snowflakes, a completely different family, Leucojum aestivum. The flower of the snowflakes, sometimes called a summer snowflake, even though it usually blooms in late April and May, closely resembles the snowdrop flower, a drooping white blossom with a touch of green. However, the snowflake is at least a foot tall. It is more noticeable in the garden than the snowdrop, but still I think it is good to plant these small bulbs in clumps.

Because these early blooming bulbs are so tiny, it is suggested that they be planted as closely as 10 to 15 bulbs in a square foot. They only need to be planted about 3 inches deep in soil that drains well. Too wet a location can rot bulbs. I mostly planted daffodils in my Heath lawn, and my technique was to dig up about a square foot of turf and dig in a little compost and phosphorous that could be bone meal or phosphate rock. Then, I arrange the bulbs as per directions in the soil. I replace the piece of turf and wait for spring blooms. This technique works as well for the small bulbs. These very early spring bulbs are tiny, so you need to plant a fair number of them to make them noticeable.

Fortunately, these little bulbs are not terribly expensive. I have just ordered four different sets of little bulbs that ranged between $13 and $18 for 50 bulbs. The bulbs are small, so they won’t put on much of a show next spring — but they will increase. If I get too impatient, I can buy another 200 in 2018.

Fall is also the season for planting garlic bulbs — you can buy them online. I got my first bulbs from a friend, but Filaree Garlic Farm offers about 100 varieties of hard-neck and soft-neck garlic. There is not much to planting garlic in the fall. It is possible to break apart a supermarket garlic bulb and plant those, but it is really a better to plant what is intended as seed garlic. The bulb will be healthy and a good size.

Like all bulbs, garlic cloves should be planted in well-drained soil. Plant each clove about 6 to 8 inches apart in a 3-inch-deep furrow. Give it good straw mulch, about 6 inches deep.

In our area, garlic should be planted by the end of October. In the spring, you can remove most of the mulch. In addition to foliage, the plant produces scapes that should be cut off because they will sap energy needed for making a nice big bulb. Those scapes are useful and can be used in recipes that call for garlic. The new bulbs can be harvested in July.

I will only be planting little bulbs this fall, but, of course, if you want daffodils, tulips, alliums, low growing anemones and more, this is the time to look for bulbs in garden centers or online. You’ll have many choices.

Pat Leuchtman has written and gardened since 1980. She lives in Greenfield. Readers can leave comments at her Web site: www.commonweeder.com