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Minor Bulbs, Major Charm

Autumn arrives, and the dog days of summer give way to the cooler temperatures of September and October. Leaves turn color and begin their descent into the garden. The pace slows down. The final roses of summer add to the colorful fall display, and gardeners everywhere begin to think of the spring to come. Now is the time to prepare for the earliest show of flowers in the landscape by planting bulbs.

Small BulbsOften overlooked amid the splashier displays of standard tulips and narcissus are the smaller bulbs, referred to as “minor” in the jargon of horticulture. The bulbs are smaller than the usual tulip or narcissus; some verge on being tiny. They may need some special treatment, such as soaking in water overnight if they are especially hard. They do produce smaller shows of flowers than their larger counterparts; however, they are necessary additions to well-planned gardens.  Winter Aconite (Eranthis) and Snowdrop (Galanthus) will often bloom in late January and February if planted in protected areas. They will be followed by a myriad of Crocus that care little about spring snow and insist on flowering regardless of cold temperatures or severe weather.

Probably the greatest virtue these tiny gems possess is their tenacity and hardiness once they have established in the landscape. They will multiply by producing offsets or self-sowing seed, increasing their show over time. Rarely will they decline in vigor as the larger hybrid tulips often do. 

Placement is an important consideration. Because of the scale of size of these plants, you will enjoy them more readily if they are planted close to walks, pathways, or in elevated rock gardens where their delicate beauty can best be appreciated. Mountain gardeners will find most of these charming plants hardier to higher elevations.

The choices are extensive. Ornamental Onions (Alliums), Windflower (Anemone), Dutch Iris, Grape Hyacinth (Muscari), Striped Squill (Puschkinia), and Wood Hyacinth (Scilla campanula) are some of the varieties to plant along with many varieties of smaller species tulips and dwarf narcissus. Remember to start thinking about SPRING IN SEPTEMBER! Your goal is to have flowers to enjoy in late winter and early spring. Tuck these marvelous little gems in small spaces and enjoy the rewards of fall planting for years to come.

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