Start Plotting Your Spring Bulb Display

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

In an age of instant gratification, it's comforting to know there are still beautiful rewards to be gained through planning and patience. A spring bulb display is one such delight. If you were anywhere near the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens this past spring, perhaps you were inspired by the gorgeous display of 70,000 flowers. Fortunately, it doesn't take an army of volunteers (or a federal budget) to achieve beautiful results in a small yard.

Spring-flowering bulbs are a good option for the novice gardener because of their adaptability. They flourish in a number of different environments, they do not require a lot of space and most grow well in average soil and full sun. But their sheer variety can provide a healthy challenge to the more advanced and adventurous green thumb as well.

Bulbs (the common name that also includes tubers, corms and rhizomes) are divided into four categories based on when they bloom: late winter/early spring, spring, summer and autumn. Most bulbs need "cold treatment" (time in the frozen ground) to grow and bloom properly.

A good place to start is to consider what's already in your yard. According to Chase Williams, botanical gardens supervisor at Franklin Park Conservatory, says this is one of the biggest oversights people make when planning bulb displays. Plenty of resources can recommend how to coordinate particular flowers with perennials or ornamental grasses-search out images, books and catalogues, paying attention to what appeals to you when it comes to colors, blooms and patterns. Or consider that some bulbs, like tulips, often thrive in beds dedicated just to them. "Daffodils are typical," Williams says, "but there are a lot of other kinds that work well in the Ohio environment." Grape hyacinths, miniature iris, crocus and Siberian squill bulbs are all great options for Ohio gardeners, Williams says.

Once you have an idea of what you want, determine the right quantity. Online "landscape calculators" can make recommendations based on a number of variables. This figure will help in creating a budget. Most bulbs cost less than a dollar each. Garden centers and retail shops will have them in stock, but keep in mind they might carry only the most popular varieties. For a wider selection, many suppliers have websites and catalogues available as early as spring, although many will not ship until late summer. While it is best to plant them when you get them, bulbs can be stored in a cool, dry place (if they become too warm, they can bloom prematurely).

Much of the success and failure of bulbs is dependent upon proper planting. Layer them with the late-bloomers (like lilies) on the very bottom. It is also best to put the tallest flowers toward the back of the bed. There are many different strategies for planting, but the general rule is depth should be three times the height of the bulb. In terms of looks, clusters of the same type of bloom tend to be more pleasing than randomly scattered arrangements.

While planting your bulbs in the fall and waiting for spring to see the results takes patience, there is a predictable wonder in catching your first glimpse of green poking through the earth, rewarding your efforts with another season of beauty.