Plant bulbs now for spring color

Ask a Master Gardener


November 15, 2023

Bulbs are an important part of the spring garden. Their flowers provide color and interest when it is most appreciated, as well as food for early pollinators. Early bloomers such as snowdrops, winter aconite, miniature iris, crocus and muscari are typically the first bulbs to bloom in Western Washington.

One of the earliest daffodils, “Rijnveld”s Early Sensation,” produces a full-size flower a month before other daffodils. Other varieties of the Narcissus family include “King Alfred and “Dutch Master,” or the tiny yellow “Tete a Tete.” “Jack Snipe” is a handsome dwarf Narcissus and “February Gold” is a slightly taller yellow miniature.

Later blooming varieties include the big trumpet daffodils but also the small cup, doubles and large cup, like the classic “Ice Follies” with its white petals and flat yellow cup and the pretty, fragrant tazetta daffodils like the delightful white and orange cultivar “Geranium.” Late season brings the delicate, backswept flowers of Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus, also known as “Pheasant Eye” daffodil.

For many people, especially here in Skagit Valley, the pinnacle of spring is when the tulips bloom. There are many varieties of tulips, including single early, single late, doubles, parrots, triumph, Darwin hybrids, emperor and fringed, each with its own bloom time and flower type. They come in every color except blue; from “Spring Green”, a white tulip with pale green stripes to the nearly black “Queen of Night.”

There are also species of tulips which are less showy than the big hybrids but very hardy and great for naturalizing in the garden. Tulipa saxatilis is a vigorous spreader that carpets the ground with showy lavender-pink flowers with brilliant yellow centers, while T. batalinii, “Bright Gem,” has blue-green foliage topped with yellow or apricot flowers streaked with pink.

There is still time to plant a variety of spring blooming bulbs. The rule for most bulbs is to plant in late fall or early winter, setting them at a depth 2-3 times the size of the bulb. Not planting bulbs deep enough is often what causes them, especially tulips, to vanish instead of coming back year after year. Pick a spot with full or at least part sun and well-draining soil. Bulbs do not do well in damp spots. You can add some bulb fertilizer to the soil while planting if you like. Small, early blooming bulbs can be tucked in throughout a garden bed, but all bulbs look beautiful planted together in a group to make swathes of color in the spring. For more information about the species described here and specific instructions on planting, please go to our Ask a Master Gardener Blog post

Questions about home gardening or becoming a Master Gardener: 360-428-4270;

Jessamyn Tuttle has been a Master Gardener since 2017. She is co-manager of the plant house in the Discovery Garden.


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