Good bulbs for beginners

redsox_gwOctober 15, 2008

I don't have much experience with bulbs. I have heard that tulips don't really have good rebloom and I don't want to plant bulbs every year.

Our property came with a lot of daffodils so I am looking for something different. Any suggestions? Zone 6, Clay, alkaline soil.

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vetivert8(NI-NZ zone 9a)

Bluebells (Scilla, Hyacinthoides etc) might be suitable BUT - come with a 'weed' warning.

Chionodoxa - so long as they don't have to compete with the 'big hair' of the daffodil leaves. Winter aconite, possibly. If it's native to your area - Sanguinaria (I love the leaf colour!) - along with dwarf Narcissus, before the trees leaf up. If they're hardy - spring Cyclamen - and Fritillaria meleagris. And there's bound to be an Allium to suit. (Just give triquetrum a miss. Weedy as!)

Polygonatum/Solomon's seal, which has a roving rhizome root system so could be counted as a 'bulb' - and has pleasant autumn colour as well (in my zone that's so). Good in dappled light. For me, the flowers follow most of the daffodils and cover the gap until the late spring crowd come out: Paeonies and Ixias

Also - dwarf bearded Iris. And the bulbous Irises - reticulata, and other smaller sun-likers. Also the English iris (not the Dutch) as they flower later. And Iris stylosa, if that's hardy for you, to give soft mauve-blue flowers over winter.

Totally away from bulbs - Delphinium and Bergenia (the latter more with white daffodils unless you have the white-flowered Bergenia)

Ancient compost and leaf mould will help tone down alkalinity - and improve growing conditions - if that's an objective for you.

I also find that adding wood ashes to the garden beds seems to improve both flowering and disease resistance. Even the Rhododendrons don't mind - so it probably wouldn't greatly increase alkalinity.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2008 at 3:16AM
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jackied164(z6 MA)

In one sense bulbs are perfect for beginners. You stick them in the ground in the fall and they are nearly compelled to flower in the spring. Most have everything they need to flower already. Your clay soil could present a problem with this simple statement if it gets soggy and stays that way over winter. Many bulbs will rot in these conditions. Also if you have a big problem with critters (squirrels, moles, voles, etc) digging or eating them some may not survive. There are ways to combat the critters though and my simplest method is to just put a big rock over the hole I plant bulbs in and then remove it when the ground freezes. The advice to amend your clay soil will over the years help the soggy problem if you have it.

What you are saying about tulips is true for many. I have just tried to adjust the way I think about them and don't expect them to re-bloom. I yank them and then have a perfect space to plant annuals. There are however species tulips that do not behave this way and have the added advantage of typically being cheaper. Sure they are smaller but they also are very unique and beautiful. I buy bags of 50 and plant them in clumps or big drifts.

I second the recommendation of chionodoxa and winter aconite along with other "minor" bulbs like scillia and muscari. They are fairly cheap and reliable. Winter aconite along with snow drops also bloom really early and at at time here when even a single flower just grabs your attention. These bulbs are perfect for small areas by your walkway where you will see them in Feb or March.

Other bulbs I's tooth violet...great in kind of shady places...allium - from the big huge cartoonish Globemaster to smaller ones...camissia which can do well in wet conditions and are native.

I actually spend a lot on bulbs every year but this is how I look at it. The spring, when they fill the garden with color, is really the time when I most need a garden full of color. I also find the delayed gratification of buying and planting in fall and enjoying in spring to be very gratifying. It gives me something to hope for over-winter.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2008 at 10:45PM
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Thank you both for these suggestions. I will check into them.

We do have a critter problem but as you said, you can place a rock over it or some chicken wire.

So the species tulips have reliable rebloom? How about the Alliums, how is rebloom?

    Bookmark   October 17, 2008 at 2:55PM
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stephen_e(PA Zone 6)

I have a big critter problem, living on a creek near a wildlife refuge. Everything from squirrels to possums to muskrats to raccoons.

Daffs and alliums are resistant to critters as they are poisonous or taste bad. My crocus are a magnet for varmints (planted very shallow), but I mixed in a lot of grape hyacinth (muscari) and that left a bad taste in their mouths and no further problems. These naturalize well (increase with time).

If you are planting tasty bulbs at 4" or more depth, try adding daffodils to the mix. You can then add grape hyacinth at 3" near the top of the bed. One taste of that and your problems will soon end.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2008 at 1:43PM
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stephen_e(PA Zone 6)

Many alliums will bloom reliably from year to year. I have great, long blooming results from an allium relative -- garden chives. They are not as big and showy, but last a long time, the heads remain attractive until the seed drops and the (tasty) foliage lasts until frost.

Tulips can last for several or many years. The species tulips are the best. However, if you are in KY and have alkaline soil, I assume you live in the limestone plateau region. Those soils are not the best for tulips because they are alkaline and retain water. You would have to dig deep and heavily amend them to get good tulip performance. I would expect a lot of maintenance to retain tulip beds.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2008 at 4:20PM
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So would you expect that I would have the same degree of difficulty getting species tulips to repeat, based on the alkaline clay soil? If so, I will try some of the other options, I hate to fight nature.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2008 at 9:00PM
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ladychroe(z6 NJ)

I don't know... I have rock-hard clay soil and my species tulips double every year. While I agree that it's best to work with the conditions that you've got, it's also true that bulbs are relatively cheap and very easy. It's OK to try a few things every year that aren't exactly suited to your conditions. Most of them bloom the first year whether they are happy or not - that's what they are programmed to do, so they do it. If they don't perennialize, oh well, you get to try something else.

By the way, there are several tulips that come back reliably. Pink Impression is my favorite. It's a huge, fist-sized flower that has had a 100% return for the last 4 years in my heavy clay soil.

All the pink ones here are Pink Impression. The ones on the upper left were planted in fall of 2003.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2008 at 11:01AM
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Wow, how did you post those pictures?


    Bookmark   November 3, 2008 at 9:45PM
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