Plant Minor Bulbs for Spring

Bulbs that aren't as well-known as daffodils or tulips can still make a big impact in your garden.
galanthus arnott

galanthus arnott

Sweetly-scented Galanthus 'Sam Arnott' blooms in late winter or very early spring.

Daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips usually steal the spotlight in spring gardens. But there are other, lesser-known bulbs--the so-called minor or semiprecious bulbs and tubers—that also put on quite a show. 

These smaller bulbs are eye-catching and colorful, and many have delightful fragrances. The trick is to plant them in masses, so they don’t get lost in garden beds or landscapes. Most will grow nicely under deciduous trees and shrubs, along the margins of woodlands, or with a mix of bigger bulbs in beds and containers. For a natural look, scatter them and plant them where they land, or grow them in random groupings.

Choose bulbs that bloom at the same time if you want striking color combinations. Try sunny yellow daffodils, for example, with Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica), or combine crimson-and-white tulips with white grape hyacinths (Muscari).

Consider these minor bulbs for your next spring garden:

  • Snowdrops (Galanthus) often poke their fragrant, white heads through a crust of snow, opening from late winter into very early spring. ‘Sam Arnott’ is a large snowdrop with emerald-green markings that reaches about 10” high. Snowdrops like partial shade and well-drained soil and should be planted 2 to 3 inches deep. They’re deer resistant and naturalize easily.
  • Grape hyacinths (Muscari) are some of the more commonly known-and-grown “minor players” in the garden. Available in white, pink, purple, blue, yellow, and some bicolors, these hardy bulbs can take full sun or deciduous shade. As their name suggests, the waxy flowers look like little bunches of grapes. Plant them 4” deep and 2 or 3 inches apart in fertile, well-drained soil. They naturalize easily and are seldom bothered by deer or rodents.
  • Scilla campanulata (Hyacinthoides hispanica, sometimes shown as Endymmion hispanicus) has bell-shaped flowers that may be white, soft pink, or blue. Also known as  Spanish bluebell or wood hyacinth, these bulbs take full sun to part shade. Plant them 3 to 4 inches deep in beds, borders, woodland gardens, and rock gardens, or use them in drifts.
  • Striped squill, also called Lebanon squill (Puschkinia) are very hardy and open their flowers early in the spring. Their star-shaped blooms are pale blue to bluish-white, with dark stripes down the center of each petal. Undemanding and easy to grow, the bulbs tolerate full sun to part shade, and the plants top out at 12 inches high.
  • Crocus may open their blooms from late winter to early spring. Deer and rabbits seldom bother the bulbs, but voles, mice and squirrels can be a problem (if they are, try planting crocus under chicken wire or other wire mesh.) Look for crocus with pink, yellow, orange, purple, blue, or white flowers. Plant the bulbs 3 or 4 inches deep in full to part sun.