University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Fall News Article
line
   
MINIATURE SPRING BULBS
 
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 
The old saying, "good things come in small packages," is especially true for the spring bulb garden.  Although large Dutch tulips and yellow daffodils certainly have their place in the garden, spring-blooming miniatures--called minor bulbs in the nursery trade--add pizzazz.  Most are prolific bloomers, with some, like snow drops and snow crocuses, among the first to flower in the spring.
           
The rules for planting these miniatures are the same as for any spring-flowering bulb.  You need to get them in the ground in the early fall.  This allows them to develop a strong root system, before the ground freezes.  But because the blooms are tiny, you will need to plant them fairly close together, en masse, to provide impact.  Their small size also makes them the perfect plant for a rock garden, to use along a path or edge of a small property, or plant among taller bulbs to bloom under them.
           
Because these bulbs are perennials, it's to your benefit to spend time getting the soil ready.  They need a well-drained area though don't worry too much about finding a sunny spot.  At the time of their bloom, deciduous trees haven't leafed out yet, so there's adequate light filtering through the leafless branches to keep these plants blooming.  By the time the tree canopy has formed, the miniatures have already gone dormant.
           
With a spade or pitchfork, loosen the soil to a depth of about ten inches.  If you are planting under trees, take care not to harm the roots.  Work in plenty of compost, shredded leaves, or other organic matter to add nutrients.  If your soil is heavy clay, add even more organic matter, such as peat moss, to loosen it up and improve drainage.
            
Plant the bulbs three times as deep as the bulb is high.  A one-inch bulb should be planted three inches deep.  While many gardeners use a bulb planter to dig holes, a trowel often works better for the smaller bulbs, especially if you are planting them densely for a stronger splash of color.  Instead of individual holes, dig a wider one for several bulbs.  I often dig a zigzag trench.
           
In the bottom of the hole or trench place a very small amount of fertilizer (see directions on the package).  Fertilizers designed especially for bulbs are available at commercial garden centers.  Make sure there is some soil between the base of the bulb and the fertilizer to avoid injuring the tender bulbs.  Or you can use an organic fertilizer.  Avoid using bone meal as this will attract skunks and other rodents who will dig up the bulbs.
           
Place bulbs in the hole with the growth point (pointed end) facing up.  Then carefully backfill, replacing the soil you removed.  Tamp down gently, then water thoroughly.  Mulch with a one- to two-inch layer of shredded pine bark, shredded leaves, or straw for protection against fluctuating soil temperatures.  These keep the soil warmer in the fall, allowing more root growth.
           
Next spring, just as new growth emerges, top-dress with bulb fertilizer.  After the bloom period, do not cut back the foliage.  The leaves manufacture and store food in the bulb to create blooms next year.  Many gardeners will plant bulbs among other flowers which hide the dried and withering bulb foliage.  Or, naturalize in a lawn area that you can wait to mow until early July when foliage on bulbs dies back.
           
Here are some ideas of bulbs you might try for various colors next spring.
 
BLUES AND PURPLES--grape hyacinth (Muscari), eight to 10 inches tall, dark blue flowers; striped squill (Puschkinia), four to six inches, blue or bluish-white, also comes in white; glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa), four inches, bright blue; Grecian windflower (Anemone blanda 'Blue Star'), three to eight inches; and my favorite for naturalizing, Siberian squill (Scilla), four to six inches, deep blue flowers.

REDS AND PINKS--snake's-head or checquered lily (Fritillaria meleagris), eight to ten inches, checkered maroon pattern, about the only bulb to withstand wet conditions; Grecian windflower (Anemone coronaria), three to eight inches, red; Grecian windflower (Anemone blanda 'Pink Star'), three to eight inches, pink.

WHITE—summer snowflake (Leucojum), white bells, blooms late spring, one foot or less (more commonly comes in a giant form with larger flowers); glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa luciliae 'Alba'), four inches tall, early bloomer;  dwarf  narcissus (Narcissus 'Thalia’), less than one foot high, has several small white flowers per stem.

YELLOW--crocus (Crocus angustifolius 'Minor'), four inches, deep orange-yellow color with bronze stripes; dwarf daffodils including the petticoat daffodil (Narcissus bulbocodium), five inches, yellow trumpet-like blooms; and Tête-à-Tête daffodil, six inches, deep yellow flowers, one to three flowers per stem.
             

Return to Perry's Perennial Pages, Articles