Gardening Basics

Bulbs on a Budget

Spend less, grow more and share the spring joy.

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So-called "tommies," such as 'Ruby Giant' shown above, are members of the Crocus tommasinianus genus, and are squirrel-resistant.

The latest catalogs are in your lap. You leaf through page after page of dazzling photographs. Never mind that fall is more than a breath away and you can't wait till spring, but wait! Didn't you just plant a bunch last year and only half came up? It may be time to have a spring garden filled with brilliant, uplifting colors for less than you've been spending.

Behold Narcissus 'Birma'.

  • Look for pest-proof varieties. For better protection against squirrels, gophers and deer, pick bulbs they don't want to eat. Good choices: daffodils (they're poisonous), alliums (resistant to rodents only), fritillaries (Fritillaria) and "tommies," members of the Crocus tommasinianus genus (squirrels don't eat them, and deer usually don't). Scilla (Scilla siberica), winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis), hyacinth (Muscari) and spring snowflake (Leucojum nivalis) are moderately resistant.

    If you're planting bulbs that critters crave, set them inside metal cages sunk into the ground.

  • Concentrate on naturalizing varieties. Daffodils, crocus, grape hyacinths, wood anemone, snowdrops, glory of the snow, quamash (Camassia) and scilla last for years, multiplying in number.

  • Plan for spring bouquets at the same time you're building your garden. Some good choices: fragrant double narcissi like 'White Lion' (white with some shorter, soft-yellow petals in the center) or a fragrant, brightly colored jonquil like 'Golden Echo' (white with very bright yellow, extra long trumpet).

  • Muscari macrocarpum 'Golden Fragrance' is one of the latest in the line of grape hyacinths.

  • Save money by buying in bulk. You can easily pay one-third less per bulb if you buy in lots of 1,000 instead of 10 or 25. So get together with friends, neighbors or fellow garden club members to buy in quantity. Any left over can be sold at your group's fundraising events.

  • Start your bulb-shopping early enough to get choice pickings, but don't plant them until the weather is consistently cool (unless the nursery specifically calls for immediate planting of a particular variety). Store them below 60 degrees. (Gardeners in warm areas that don't supply the required three- to four-month chilling period can refrigerate the bulbs.) Then plant in a sunny area in soil that you're sure is well-drained. Most bulbs hate wet feet. Plant at the recommended depth and then mulch.

  • Don't cut or tie the foliage. Next spring after the bulbs flower, let foliage die down naturally, so that the leaves can supply nutrition for years of bloom to come.

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