Mountain West Regional Reports

Order Up: Time to Be Thinking About Spring Bulbs

Use these tips to shop for the right bulbs for your spring garden

Photo: Mary Ann Newcomer

Thinking of spring-blooming bulbs in August? You probably think the heat has gone to my head. Why, yes, now is the time to stay in your air-conditioned house perusing websites and placing orders for your spring-blooming bulbs. They are planted in the fall, and ordering now is one way to ensure you have the best selection—and sometimes get early-bird discounts. Use wooden chopsticks to mark fall planting areas for the bulbs you are about to order. I’ll just list a few of my all-time favorites, and you can go from there.

First, a caveat regarding tulips (Tulipa spp. and cvs., Zones 3–8): I hear from gardeners over and over again how disappointed they are when their tulips are not reliable perennials. They can be. You just have to know how to treat them. I have some Darwin hybrids as well as species, or wild, tulips that have been blooming in my garden for almost ten—yes, TEN—years. The Darwin hybrids seem to be the best and longest-lived of the tall showy tulips in our Mountain West region. One trick? Keep them dry in the summer. Do not plant them where they get water from your regular watering setup. Too much water and they rot. The species tulips, though small in stature, are tough, tough, tough. In fact, the species tulips in my garden are multiplying. They are also deer resistant.

These ‘Tubergen’s Gem’ lady tulips (Tulipa clusiana var. chrysantha ‘Tubergen’s Gem’, Zones 3–7) are a type of species tulip. Photo: Mary Ann Newcomer

Species tulips (Zones 4–8) do especially well in rock gardens, at the front of a flower border, or anywhere they can be showcased and seen up close. They appreciate a bit of sand or gravel for improved drainage. I grow mine next to the front steps so I have to walk by them. Plant them with short ornamental grasses that will fill out and cover the declining tulip foliage.

‘Red Impression’ tulips. Photo: Jennifer Benner

Of the Darwin hybrid tulips (Zones 3–7), you can’t go wrong with any of the Impression series. ‘Apricot Impression’, ‘Pink Impression’, ‘Red Impression’, and ‘Salmon Impression’ tulips grow between 20 and 26 inches tall. Some bulb purveyors offer a mix of Impression tulips, and they are lovely.

‘Pheasant’s Eye’ daffodils. Photo: Mary Ann Newcomer

The happy-go-lucky flowers of spring, daffodils (Narcissus spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9) have a lot of good things going for them. First, critters loathe them. Second, they tend to multiply if they are happy. Yours truly can report having found ‘Pheasant’s Eye’ daffodils (Narcissus poeticus var. recurves ‘Pheasant’s Eye’, Zones 3–7) around the West on abandoned properties and old cemeteries. Leave those in place. The bulbs can be easily purchased from a reliable bulb company or favorite nursery.

Bulbs look their absolute best when planted in clusters consisting of uneven numbers. Group them in clumps of seven or nine,  or go wild with 15. You will be thrilled next spring. Remember to thank your overheated self for the time spent choosing the best bulbs for your garden.

—Mary Ann Newcomer is the author of two books: Rocky Mountain Gardener’s Handbook and Vegetable Gardening in the Mountain States.

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