How do I Choose the Best Flowering Bulbs?

Jennifer Voight

To choose the best flowering bulbs, it’s important to decide on a general blueprint of how the completed garden should appear. Knowing what color and height the flowering bulb will be can determine which flowering bulbs are best for a garden area. Maintenance requirements and hardiness are also important to consider. Hardy bulbs may be left in the ground year-round and will tolerate freezing winter temperatures, while tender bulbs must be dug up and stored indoors each fall. Finally, some bulbs are more susceptible than others to being eaten by rabbits, squirrels, and other animals.

Bloom times should be considered when purchasing bulbs.
Bloom times should be considered when purchasing bulbs.

Before choosing flowering bulbs, a gardener should be familiar with the bloom season of the bulb. Some bulbs flower in the early spring, like crocuses, tulips, and daffodils. Others bloom in the summer, like canna, dahlia, and gladiolus. A gardener should also be familiar with the sunlight requirements of a flowering bulb and ensure that the garden is located in an area that gets enough light.

Tulip bulbs can be planted at the end of winter for early spring blooms.
Tulip bulbs can be planted at the end of winter for early spring blooms.

Different types of bulbs may be combined to create aesthetic effects according to similar color or by contrasting color. For example, differing shades of blue flowering bulbs can create a calming, serene effect. Two contrasting colors, like blue and orange, can be stunning and stimulating. Also, shorter flowering bulbs should be planted in front of medium-height bulbs. The tallest growing bulbs should be planted behind the rest.

It would be wise to know whether or not two types of bulbs planted close together will be blooming at the same time. It’s possible to plan a garden so that bulbs that bloom at different times will bloom successively so that there is constant color all season long. As one bulb type dies back, another growing bulb hides the dying foliage and blooms in its place, creating a constant wave of color. This type of garden plan is called a perpetually blooming garden.

Hardiness is another important consideration when choosing flowering bulbs. Hardy bulbs tend to be spring- or summer-blooming bulbs, while tender bulbs usually bloom in the summer or autumn. Many bulbs that are not hardy in cooler climate zones may still do well provided they are brought indoors in the autumn, although this requires more work. Amaryllis is a good example of a tender flowering bulb. Yet many gardeners find the beauty of the flower worth the effort of yearly transplanting.

Generally, hardy bulbs and heirloom flowering bulbs require less time and effort than tender bulbs. Hardy bulbs may need to be divided every four to five years and require occasional fertilization, but otherwise require very little care. These lower-maintenance bulbs tend to be good for beginning gardeners or those with little time to devote to gardening.

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