Tulips and daffodils are spring favorites of Iowans. Many gardeners, however, are unaware of the wide variety of hardy, spring-flowering bulbs. Little known bulbs, such as snowdrops and Siberian squill, offer exciting opportunities for gardeners. Consider some of the following spring-flowering bulbs when planting this fall.
Ornamental Onions (Allium spp) are grown for their colorful flower clusters. Flowers are white, yellow, or pink to purple. They bloom from late spring to early summer. Alliums grow best in full sun. The Giant Allium (Allium giganteum) produces pinkish purple flowers in a dense, globe-shaped cluster 4 to 6 inches across. The solitary heads are borne atop a 3 to 4 foot tall stem. The giant onion usually blooms in late June. Lily Leek (Allium moly) bears yellow flowers in a loose umbel in late spring. Lily leeks grow 8 to 12 inches tall and are best utilized in borders and rock gardens.
Glory-of-the-Snow (Chionodoxa luciliae) are among the earliest spring-flowering bulbs. Flowers are star-shaped, bright blue with white centers. Plant glory-of-the-snow in drifts in rock gardens, borders, and edgings. The 6-inch plants prefer sunny sites. There are also white and pink flowered varieties of this species.
Crocuses (Crocus spp and hybrids) grow well in either full sun or partial shade. Flower colors include yellow, blue, lavender, and purple. Many blossoms are striped. Plant crocuses in groups of a dozen or more of the same color for maximum effect. They are best planted in rock gardens, around trees and shrubs, and among low-growing groundcovers. (Do not plant crocuses in the lawn. The grass will have to be mowed before the plants die down.) Plants are approximately 3 to 6 inches tall. The "Dutch Hybrids" bloom a little later than the other early crocus species, but have larger flowers. The Showy Crocus (Crocus speciosus) actually blooms in the fall.
The Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperialis) is a striking, unusual 3 to 4 foot plant. Large bell-shaped flowers are clustered atop a 1 to 2 foot stalk in mid-spring. The flowers are topped by a tuft of foliage. Flowers are available in shades of yellow, orange, and red. Unfortunately, the flowers and bulbs do have a slight skunk-like odor. The crown imperial does best in partial shade. Once planted, the bulb should not be disturbed. The Guinea-Hen Flower (Fritillaria meleagris) bears nodding, bell- shaped flowers in a distinctive checkered pattern in shades of purple, bronze, gray, and white. The Guinea-hen flower is about 9 to 15 inches tall and does best in full sun to light shade.
Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are among the first flowers of spring. The 6-inch plants produce white, drooping flowers. The solitary flowers are about 1 inch across. Snowdrops do best in partial to full shade. They are ideal for naturalizing under trees and shrubs or at the edge of woodlands. Snowdrops increase rapidly and soon form dense clumps.
Spring Snowflake (Leucojum vernum) blooms in early spring. The drooping, bell-shaped flowers are white tipped with green and possess a sweet violet-like fragrance. Plants grow best in partial shade to full sun and are generally 6 to 12 inches tall. Plant masses of spring snowflakes in rock gardens or around trees and shrubs.
Grape Hyacinth (Muscari spp) produces urn-shaped flowers (which somewhat resemble grapes) on 6 to 9 inch spikes. Flowers are various shades of blue or violet, but there are also white- flowered varieties. The Armenian Grape Hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) is the most widely planted species because of its vigor and larger flowers. The grape hyacinths prefer full sun and are best utilized for edging beds and in naturalized areas. The foliage often emerges in the fall, but is not a problem.
Lebanon Squill (Puschkinia scilloides) blooms in early spring. Flowers are white to pale blue with dark blue stripes running down the centers of the petals. Lebanon squill performs best when planted in large masses. They multiply rapidly.
Siberian Squill (Scilla sibirica) produces bright blue flowers in early spring on 4 to 6 inch plants. They are easy to grow and prefer partial shade to full sun. Siberian squill are most effective when planted in masses under trees and shrubs, but are also suited for rock gardens and the edge of woodlands. Siberian squill multiplies rapidly. Spanish Bluebell (Endymion hispanicus or Scilla hispanica ) produces 12 to 15 nodding, bell-shaped flowers on 12 to 18 inch stems. Varieties are available in blue, pink, and white. Spanish bluebells do well in heavy shade.
This article originally appeared in the August 26, 1994 issue, p. 135.