Early bloomers hail spring

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Towards the tail end of February, just as we begin to get restless and wish the old man winter will go away, flowers of early spring-blooming bulbs make their appearance giving us a sigh of relief. In our front and back yards, crocuses followed by grape hyacinths come up almost out of nowhere, in all kinds of unexpected places, surprising us delightfully. In fact, some years when the winter is harsher and longer that other years, I remember seeing these pint-sized beauties peeking through the fallen snow. Chilly temperatures, evidently, do not faze them.

Traditionally, early spring-blooming bulbs such as crocuses, grape hyacinths, snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) and dwarf beardless irises (Iris reticulata) are thought of as the harbingers of spring. And now spring, indeed, is here and even though it still feels cold outside, it is exciting to make plans for the spring and summer gardens.

Both, crocuses and grape hyacinths, are planted in fall, crocuses from corms and grape hyacinths from small bulbs. They are carefree and, because of their small size, look lovely in rock gardens. Once established, plants make colonies easily though there is no telling where. During the course of time, some bulbs might hitchhike to from the original place of planting, perhaps with garden trash, soil, mulch or something like that.

Crocuses are one of the firsts to bloom in late winter though the grass-like foliage, depending upon the variety, can be seen above the ground as early as January; the delicate flowers which range in color from yellow to purple to bicolor, are borne on short stalks and therefore seem to be rising directly from the ground. While not particularly fussy, crocuses, like most bulbs, prefer to be grown in a well-drained soil.  

Grape hyacinths, botanically speaking, are not hyacinths, but belong to a different genus known as Muscari. They tend to be invasive, are not showy like their namesake, and have a somewhat messy looking foliage, nevertheless, the vibrant blue flowers are a very pretty sight in spring. Most varieties grow less than a foot tall and produce spikes of round, tight blooms, which look like bunches of grapes hanging upside down. Planted in masses, the odd shaped blooms can form a blue carpet under trees, shrubs or other such areas; some species self-sow the seeds and spread even more rapidly. The petite flowers are long lasting and add an exciting touch to a small bouquet or an arrangement.

Bulbs, in general, provide us a big long-term return on a fairly small initial investment; so, thinking ahead, soon it will be time to start shopping for summer-flowering bulbs. With ample selection available at garden centers, a gardener should have no problem getting the ones the heart desires. The problem might be deciding what not to get!    

Gita’s Tip of the Month: Use care when working in areas where peonies have been planted; even though plants are still dormant, tender young shoots can be seen working their way above the ground.      

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