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Plan(t) Ahead for an Early Spring

crocus-snowWhen most of the leaves are off the trees, the evenings darker and the air chilly, you’ll find gardeners digging into the almost frozen soil to plant spring bulbs.  It may seem like a chore at the time, but spending just a few minutes to plant in early November means a glorious display of bright, beautiful flowers next spring. For most of us, it is well worth the effort.

Beginning bulb planting: try the tulip

There are many varieties of spring bulbs available but tulips are the most likely to do well, especially if you try out a few varieties and locations.

Choose any colour of variety you wish, but note whether they are “early” or “late” blooming. This makes a big difference. Usually available only in red, early tulips will bloom in April but will be gone by the time your late tulips are at their peak. Late tulips can last until late May. By planting both kinds, you can enjoy almost two months of continuous blooming!

  • Plant just before (or just after) the first frost. Just after Halloween is a good guide. The idea is to get them in the ground so that the earth freezes around them within a few days.
  • Chose firm bulbs, free of mold, blemishes and soft spots. They should not feel too light or dried up.
  • Select a sunny or partly sunny area. Tulips adapt to many types of soils as long as they have good drainage.
  • Plant with the pointed part up.
  • Add a handful of bone meal as extra nutrients.
  • Sprinkle bulbs with cayenne pepper to discourage squirrels and raccoons. Blood meal spread on the soil above the bulb also discourages squirrels.
  • Cover and water if the soil is dry but only do this once. Tulips don’t want to be waterlogged. Add some extra leaves as mulch.

Some tulip varieties and facts:

The name tulip comes from the Turkish word for gauze or muslin, the fabric used for turbans. The name was given by the Europeans, reflecting on the turban-like appearance of the flower.

  • Tulips are one of the most perfect plants. Each bulb contains all the necessary food to protect it during winter and to support growth in spring.
  • Parrot tulips have ragged petals, making them a favourite for some.
  • There are no true black tulips; the deep red-purple Tulip ‘Queen of the Night’ comes close.
  • Lily-flowered tulips have pointed petals, similar to a lily flower.

References: Toronto Master Gardeners and the Toronto Botanical Garden

Spring’s “Early Risers”
For earlier blooms, before tulips, consider these spring bulbs!

Glory-of-the-snow – see these sprout up across front lawns, often when there is still some snow on it. The white, blue and pink flowers are star-shaped, with white centres bloom in early March. Purchase bulbs but don’t be surprised to find them in your garden as they self seed and spread easily in sun or partial shade.

Common snowdrop – The earliest of blooms can  be seen in late February. They literally pop their heads through the snow. Flower stems are about 15 cm tall and bear solitary, drooping, white blooms with green spots on the inner segments. Plant bulbs in clumps along a path.

Crocuses – These come after snowdrops and display bright blue, yellow, white and pink blossoms. For best results, plant  in a circle, about an inch apart for a colourful display next March.