In the Garden:
Middle South
November, 2006
Regional Report

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Add pizzazz to your late-spring garden with flowering alliums.

Plant Now for Spring Color

Fall is waning, and the vibrant foliage colors have slowly but surely given way to the subtler hues of winter, leaving us with a more subdued landscape palette. Before you hunker down for winter, fast-forward to early spring for a moment. Close your eyes and imagine your yard -- the brown grass, the scraggly flower beds filled with dried remnants of this summer's show. Do you see anything else? If not, then you need to hurry and plant some spring-blooming bulbs!

Color When You Need it Most
I vividly recall the thrill I felt last spring when the first of the daffodils opened. Nestled up against the warm south side of our shed, they opened weeks before their more exposed cousins dared to show their buds. These early risers glowed as though they'd somehow captured the sun's rays to share with us whenever the clouds took over.

Following the yellow of the daffodils on the spring color calendar was the lipstick red and royal purple of the Darwin tulips -- bright, deep hues that satisfied the hunger for color stirred by a long winter of deprivation. Interspersed among these were blue grape hyacinths and a kaleidoscope of crocuses.

What to Plant
If you must choose only one type of spring bulb, choose daffodils. They are easy to grow, resistant to pests like deer and voles, and they readily multiply. Stick with the traditional yellow-flowered types, or try something more exotic, such as 'Easter Bonnet', with double pink cups, or 'Decoy', whose pure white petals surround a raspberry-colored cup.

Tulips are a little fussier, and the bulbs may succumb to hungry rodents before winter even hits unless you protect them with wire cages or another deterrent. Also, certain types of tulips, especially the showiest hybrid ones, tend to wane after a few years and will need to be replanted. Species tulips, such as Tulipa fosteriana, T. greigii, and T. kaufmanniana, on the other hand, are more reliably perennial and make up for their smaller stature with fascinating colors and forms. T. kaufmanniana, for example, is sometimes called a waterlily tulip because in full sun the flower's narrow petals open wide like a waterlily's.

The blooms of alliums, or flowering onions, range in size from thimble to softball and are made up of hundreds of small florets. Colors include white, blue, purple, yellow, pink, and magenta. Allium schubertii, an heirloom dating back to the late 1890s, has remarkable flowers that can only be described as resembling fireworks. Most alliums bloom in late spring, extending your bulb show. Dutch iris are a must-have for the cutting garden, with uniquely shaped flowers in a stunning range of colors.

Brighten up the Lawn
Plant early-blooming crocuses, grape hyacinths, and scilla right in the lawn. Like all bulbs, their foliage should be left to die back naturally, but since they bloom so early, there should be plenty of time for the leaves to ripen and replenish the bulbs before you need to mow. Go ahead and plant masses of these diminutive lawn dwellers to create a carpet of early spring color.

If you already have spring-blooming bulbs, then plant more of them, or plant something new and different -- you can't have too many bulbs! If you don't have any of these day-brighteners, then take a break from your garden cleanup chores and go out and get some. Right now. Try to get them into the ground by Thanksgiving so they'll have time to develop roots before winter. You'll thank me next spring!


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