Spring blooming bulbs are some of our earliest flowering perennials, bursting into bloom at a time most of us are desperate to see colors other than brown and gray. While late fall (mid-November through mid-December) is the best time to plant spring blooming bulbs in our region, early fall is the time to order or buy them, but not all varieties are equally long lived. Make the most of your bulb planting experience by seeking out these reliably perennial varieties.
Daffodils are among the most well-known of spring bloomers, but not all types are equally reliable in our region. If you are looking for a classic large flowered yellow daffodil that will return and multiply for years to come, plant ‘St.Keverne’, one of the best all-around performers for southern landscapes. For a splash of color very early in the season, try ‘Jack Snipe’, a low growing, bicolor yellow and white variety that blooms in February.
Also dependable are the varieties sometimes referred to as jonquils, known for their exceptionally fragrant blossoms. One of my favorites is ‘Quail’, which bears multiple golden yellow blossoms on each stem. Other great daffodils for fragrance and reliability include ‘Minnow’, a low growing variety with white and yellow blossoms, and ‘Cheerfulness’, a hardy paperwhite type with double white flowers.
More reliably perennial spring blooming bulbs for our climate include Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica), with spikes of blue blossoms that open the same time as azaleas; summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum), whose dainty spikes of white bell shaped flowers resemble lily of the valley and open in April; and starflower (Ipheon uniflorum), a low growing, early bloomer with icy blue, star shaped blossoms. In addition to being perennial, these bulb varieties, along with daffodils, are rarely bothered by deer or rabbits.
If you have gardened in the south for more than a couple of seasons you have probably already discovered large flowered hybrid tulips are not perennials here. But have you ever tried the smaller flowered species tulips? One of the best for our region is the lady tulip, Tulipa clusiana ‘Cynthia’. This early blooming, ten inch tall tulip bears dainty yellow and rose-red blossoms in late March and has returned to bloom and multiply in my garden for several years now.
For color beyond spring, add lilies to your landscape. Two reliable types for our region are Asiatic lilies and oriental lilies. Asiatic lilies tend to be a shorter and bloom slightly earlier than oriental lilies, in May and June, with blossoms in bright shades of orange, yellow, white, pink, and red. Oriental lilies are what most people think of when they picture a lily. ‘Stargazer’ is one of the most popular varieties, bearing large, fragrant, raspberry red blossoms on three foot tall stems in June and July. Both types thrive in sun to part shade and well drained soil, but are a favorite of deer so plant them close to your home or in a fenced area.
Using bulbs in the landscape
For high impact, plant bulbs in solid masses or large sweeps. To add color and interest to existing beds and borders, tuck bulbs between perennials and deciduous shrubs, where they will bring early color to otherwise dormant areas. Bulbs also work well when planted underneath winter annuals such as pansies and violas, creating a layered effect when they come up to bloom in spring.
Bulbs perennialize best in sunny areas or under deciduous trees. All bulbs prefer to grow in well drained soil, except summer snowflake, which grows quite happily in heavy, moist soil. A general rule of thumb for planting bulbs is to set them at a depth two to three times the size of the bulb; This means small bulbs are only planted 3” to 4” deep, while larger bulbs like daffodils are planted at a depth of 8”. A slow release or organic fertilizer can be worked into the soil at planting time or applied in spring when bulb foliage begins to emerge.
Support the Pender Extension horticulture education program by purchasing high quality, reliably perennial bulbs from the Pender Extension Master Gardener Association this fall. Orders and payment are due by Oct. 16. Bulbs will be available for pick up Nov. 6 from Holy Trinity Church, 107 Deerfied Road, in Hampstead, and Nov. 7 from the Pender Extension Office in Burgaw. Visit pender.ces.ncsu.edu for full details and to download an order form.
Questions about bulbs or other gardening topics? Visit http://ces.ncsu.edu, where you can post your questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Extension office. If you live in Pender County, call 910-259-1238. In New Hanover County, call 910-798-7660. In Brunswick County call 910-253-2610.
Charlotte Glen is the horticulture agent with the Pender County Cooperative Extension of N.C. State University, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached via email at Charlotte_Glen@ncsu.edu.