When the garden awakens in spring, it should be with a splash of colour.
The easiest way to achieve this goal is to purchase and plant spring bulbs, so named as they come up and bloom in the spring.
Thought and preparation should go into this as the bulbs themselves need to be planted early in the fall.
In warmer climates gardeners can plant later in the season but not so in Central Alberta.
Bulbs survive the cold winters when they have time to become established by putting down roots.
Always ask about shipping dates before ordering bulbs from a catalogue.
If they can’t guarantee shipping before the end of September it is advisable to discard the order. Local supplies might not have the variety but the product can be taken home and planted immediately.
When purchasing bulbs look for healthy ones that are firm, free of mould and cuts.
Larger bulbs are better as they contain more food to support growth and flowers.
Bulbs that are too small will not flower the first year. Instead, the foliage will appear, feed the bulb, and die down.
Purchase from a company that lists the bulb size either on the package or in the catalogue. Ignore places that list the bulbs as the largest size available as it might be the largest size the company could purchase but not necessarily the largest bulb available from other sales sources.
Be careful when purchasing large packages of bulbs as they are often smaller and inferior to bulbs that are sold individually.
The more common bulbs that are hardy to the area are: daffodils, tulips, scillia and grape hyacinths. Crocuses are also planted but they tend to be a bit more temperamental. Some years they will bloom, other years they will not.
Daffodils and tulips have been hybridized for hundreds of years supplying consumers with seemingly endless varieties.
Daffodils grow in many sizes from the tiny rock garden varieties to the large King Alfords. Colours vary from pure white to yellows, oranges and pinks. The older varieties with the trumpets tend to be hardier.
Once established daffodils multiply and last for years.
Tulips are can be divided into many different groups but the most common are the large flowering ones, the hybrids. It is possible to match tulips with any colour scheme. In our climate, only a few varieties of hybrid tulips replenish themselves after blooming. Each year the blooms get smaller until they vanish from the garden.
Botanical tulips are the original native tulips. They are much smaller than the hybrids and come in fewer colours.
The advantage is that the bulbs will naturalize providing colour for many years.
Scilla or squill is a short blue flower that is the first to bloom in the spring. Expect the patch of bright blue flowers to double in size within five years.
Grape hyacinths are commonly thought of as little blue spikes. That has changed. They are now available in white, purple, light blue and bicolour. These bulbs are a great addition to the yard as the flowers last for a long period of time. The foliage of this plant will appear in late summer to early fall, feeding the bulb before winter.
For those that wish to take a risk and try something new, checkerboard fritillaria is a dainty addition to the garden. The tiny hanging bells appear in either white or mauve.
These bulbs will bloom for a number of years before needing to be replaced.
Whatever bulb you choose to put in the garden this fall will reward you with colour in the spring.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org