Autumnal planting promises a wealth of spring beauty and bounty.
Seasoned gardeners know that bulbs planted in the fall will grow roots in the winter and sprout in the springtime, giving your garden color and providing you with a much-needed feeling of renewal after a long winter.
Maryland gardeners should consider planting bulbs and corms such as Crocus, Hyacinthus, Muscari and Scilla. Not only will these bulbs beautify your garden, but they are also among the earliest to flower and provide nourishment to our favorite pollinators from early March through April.
Bulbs to plant in the garden
Crocus are corms that come in lavender, purple, blue, yellow, orange, cream and bicolor, depending on their species.
(For example, Cheilocostus speciosus,
Plant your crocuses from the early fall up until the ground freezes.
Plant crocus 2-3 inches deep in sun or filtered light. While you don’t need to be concerned about soil type, they do require good drainage. Crocus will grow to six inches, and excel in dappled shade under deciduous trees and shrubs. They will flower from mid-winter to early spring and naturalize over time. If chipmunks or squirrels are an issue, surround the corms with chicken wire after planting.
Hyacinths are true bulbs and perennials that come in various colors: blue purple, red, pink, salmon, yellow, cream and white. The Dutch hybrids, Helleborus orientalis, are highly fragrant and fat spiked.
Plant hyacinths in sun to a depth of 3-5 inches in early fall. These bulbs grow to a height of 6-12 inches and are best planted en masse in well-drained soil. They flower in mid-spring. Hyacinths don’t live as long as tulips and they can be considered annuals.
Muscari, commonly known as Grape Hyacinth is a true bulb that flowers in early spring. Its colors are bright blue, white, lilac and a rare greenish brown.
Plant them to a depth of 2-3 inches apart in well-drained soil, in sun or light shade. Muscari grow to a height of 8-18 inches and naturalize rapidly under deciduous trees and shrubs.
Blue Muscari flowers blooming in the spring. (Photo by Linagagaga/Shutterstock)
Also known as Squill, Scilla are true bulbs that flower in winter to early spring. Their colors are blue, violet, lilac, pink and white. Plant them to a depth of 2-4 inches and 4-6 inches apart in sun during bloom time and partial shade the rest of the year. They do best when planted in clumps. Scilla grow from 3-12 inches and their blossoms are starlike. They are a true harbinger of spring when they bloom in early March.
Bulbs to grow in containers
Crocus, Hyacinthus, Muscari and Scilla are also suitable for indoor containers planting. By growing bulbs with successive flowering times, one can enjoy months of uninterrupted bloom.
You can choose from clay pots, glazed or unglazed; plastic pots (not as aesthetically pleasing) and wood, which can be utilized for just one season.
All pots require drain holes with a minimum depth of 12 inches for Scilla. A pot with at least 15 inches can be used up to three years with the addition of 5-10-5 fertilizer. In this case, bulbs should be separated 3-4 inches apart.
Choosing and caring for your bulbs
Use top quality bulbs and be sure to follow recommendations regarding the amount of soil to be added to your containers. Bulbs or corms should barely be covered with potting soil. The directions for planting each bulb or corm will be found in the bulb catalog.
For a 12–16-week period, keep bulbs at 40-45 degrees. When top growth appears, move to a well-lighted, cool spot at 55-70 degrees. After flowering, the bulbs should be separated and placed in the garden.
Rebecca Brown began her career as a horticulturalist more than 25 years ago and studied at the New York Botanical Gardens. She has been a University of Maryland, Baltimore County master gardener for eight years and is a backyard beekeeper.
Norman Cohen is a retired chemist. He has been gardening for 39 years and has been a University of Maryland, Baltimore County master gardener for 13 years. Cohen also provides gardening education to the public at local farmers markets.
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