5 Reasons to Plant More Bulbs This Fall
September 1, 2020
The dumbest question about flower bulbs, ever:
“Do they have any purpose apart from being pretty?”
Yes, sure they do, but what’s to shame about beauty? When you see the earliest snowdrops blooming in cloud-heavy winter, aren’t your spirits lifted? And when the crocus, then the daffodils follow, doesn’t their floral display pulse beauty in through your eyes and wake you up, just like the natural creature you are, ready for Spring?
According to the University of Oregon’s Richard Taylor, gazing at fractal patterns (think alliums, dahlias, ranunculus) influences our brain to relax in a clear-headed, focused way. In other words, natural beauty is medicinal.
But, if bright good looks and a clear head aren’t enough “purpose” to motivate you to plant more bulbs in your garden this Fall, then consider their other fine qualities.
*reduce garden maintenance
*give you years of free bouquets
*add diversity without eating up garden real estate
*enliven your garden’s color combos
One of my favorite memories shared with my son when he was so young and the world was full of wonder, was watching a queen bumblebee wake from her winter slumber. She bumbled and stumbled out of her hole in the crocus-covered ground. Then, one searching limb at a time, she crawled up the fleshy flower stalk, flipped inside the purpled bowl and curled up to rest. I knew that early crocuses provide a feast for bees, but I’d never seen one use the flower as a bed before.
Joe Wilson, my favorite bee educator, has observed bees using daffodils as warming huts on cool days. There’s a measurable difference in temperature in those golden trumpets.
And then, there’s the more predictable way that flowering bulbs help pollinators – with pollen and nectar, of course. Both the May blooming ‘Purple Sensation’ alliums and the later drumstick alliums are constantly abuzz with foragers. Oriental lilies and the excellent Orienpet varieties are tall and fragrant queens of summer, offering hummingbirds a sweet sip and gardeners a bloom worth bragging about.
*Reduce Garden Maintenance.
It’s the heart of winter and you spy daffodils pushing their green heads free from the hoary earth. “Isn’t it too early?” you cry to your friends, “It must be global warming!”
That could be true, but, it is natural for many flower bulbs to emerge early and spread their leaves, catching the sun before overhead trees shade the ground. Not only daffodils, but wood anemones (Anemone nemerosa), spring starflowers (Ipheion uniflorum), grape hyacinths (Muscari sp.) and others feel the call to grow long before the Spring Equinox.
Then there’s the flipped season bulbs and corms like naked lady lilies (Amaryllis belladonna) and hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) that grow lush, fresh leaves in the Fall. These verdant perennials continue to cover the ground winter into spring. Then summer’s dormancy folds them into the earth again.
What does this mean for gardeners looking to reduce maintenance? Less weeds! During that Spring greening time of year, when so many seeds sprout, if your ground is bare, it’s a welcome mat for weeds. But, if you layer plenty of bulbs into your garden, their leaves will cover the ground and suppress weeds while you sit back and enjoy the show.
*Give You Years of Cheap Bouquets.
If you’re at the nursery comparing a bag of daffodil bulbs to a potted purple coneflower, you’ll see that the bulbs are about half the price. Sure, some specialty bulbs like those ginormous alliums are silly expensive, most are cheaper than perennial plants. And most, not all, are perennial themselves, giving more blooms with each passing year. This quality is known as “naturalizing” and is worth paying attention to in the descriptions when you’re choosing which varieties to buy.
So, if you like free bouquets cut fresh from your own garden, plant more bulbs. Every Fall if you can! I love all the small flowered, early spring bulbs for the ground covering benefit mentioned above. It’s the big bloomers that end up in my arrangements, though. Think daffodils, tulips, camas, alliums, lilies, and dahlias.
Of course, I’d be the one to pick up both the bag of daffodils and the potted coneflower, along with some others to layer in. I’m a both/and kinda gal. Just imagine a bouquet of golden daffs with sprays of sky blue Brunnera sparkling at their heels and pink spears of cherry blossoms reigning over all.
*Add Diversity without Eating Up Garden Real Estate.
Your yard, small or large, can be a real gift to the living world. How? Simply by increasing the diversity of plants in your yard, you support exponentially more insects, birds and other wildlife. (I even read recently of a study showing that more species of plants in your yard equals more immune-boosting beneficial bacteria in your body!)
I can think of no better way to add more diversity to your garden than to tuck bulbs in every nook and cranny. Most take up so little space, you can easily slip them between flowering perennials, amongst the roots of trees, on the ends of your veggie or berry beds, and even in the joints of a stepping stone path.
Think layering, both in space and time. A bulbs roots as well as its flowers can coexist closely with the roots and tops of other plants because they occupy different layers. They don’t mind snuggling up! And those early emerging bulbs we talked about before take up space only when their near neighbors are still dormant. Crocus in full bloom layer perfectly with peonies that just start to show their weird, red new leaves in the earliest days of Spring.
You can even increase the number of habitat-boosting native plants in your garden by adding bulbs like Camas (Camassia quamash), white fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum), nodding onion (Allium cernuum), or harvest brodiaea (Brodiaea coronaria).
There’s always room for more bulbs. Get creative. Where can you sneak a drift of crocus, a few clumps of camas, or an early carpet of winter aconite?
*Enliven Your Garden’s Color Combos.
This is back to being pretty, but it’s worth mentioning because art matters. Sprinkling bulbs through your beds is a fun way to play with color combinations. Oriental poppies with ‘Purple Sensation’ alliums is such a great combo that it made its way into our logo.
Pay attention to the bloom times and pair complimentary or contrasting colors of bulbs and perennials. Tulips look amazing emerging form a sea of creeping phlox (Phlox subulata). Camas (Camassia quamash) and checker mallow (Sidalcea virgata) are perfect native companions that look even better together than on their own. Steel blue sea holly (Eryngium ‘Blue Glitter’) studded with dark drumstick alliums (Allium sphaeocephalon) is a swoon-worthy combo.
Do you like to take photos of your garden? Overlapping combos of blooms make the best subjects for your camera lens as well as your gaze. Color is delightful. And bulbs are the best way to get a good mingle going.
Let’s wrap up this thread about the meaningful roles of bulbs in the garden with a note of gratitude. The opportunity to engage with nature in your own backyard is a gift of reciprocity. Planting more bulbs is just one way you can make beauty and enhance habitat. And that in turn gives back to you with a greater sense of well-being and connection to the more-than-human world.
Do yourself a favor this Fall and set aside a budget for bulbs. You can shop from the local nurseries and farmer’s markets or order from specialty growers like The Lily Garden or Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. Plant crocus and daffodils by the 100’s!
Pick up a bulb auger attachment for your cordless drill and bury bulbs like a a squirrel preparing for a hard winter. Next spring is going to be magical!
No question is truly dumb when you’re looking to learn. If you have one, please ask me! We can open the doors together to all the wonder of nature’s beauty. Leave a comment below!