In April when we’re waiting impatiently for the grass to green up, for the trees to get leaves, and for color of any kind in our landscape, hardy, perennial bulbs give us the first colorful blooms of spring in our gardens.

Definition: A bulb is defined as “a complete miniature plant encased in fleshy modified leaves which contain stores of food.” Tulips, narcissus, crocus, allium, hyacinth, and lilies are all familiar hardy bulbs.   Chionodoxa, snow drops, dwarf iris, and scilla are lesser-known, small, hardy bulbs. Although often classified with bulbs, gladious corms, begonia and dahlia tubers, and German bearded iris rhizomes are not “true” bulbs.

Origin & History: A few bulbs– allium and some lilies– are native to North America.   Most other bulbs are native to Mediterranean-area climates where there is not a lot of precipitation which makes bulbs the perfect plants for your water-wise garden. Tulips originated in the Turkish Empire in what is now Russia. Long before tulips got to Holland they were cultivated by the Turks. In the late 16th Century, tulip bulbs made their way to Holland where they were hybridized and became very popular, selling for huge prices.   Speculation and trading on the expensive bulbs caused “Tulipmania”. Bulbs were even used as currency for a time in Holland until the tulip market burst in 1637. Holland still raises the bulk of the world’s bulbs.

Original native tulips, called ‘species’, look quite different from the tall hybrid tulips we are used to; species tulips are shorter, bloom earlier but are longer lived.  Narcissus, commonly called daffodils, are native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia. They also have been extensively hybridized to create longer stems and bigger blossoms.

Planting and care: In our climate, plant most bulbs in September or October in well-drained, fertile soil. Good soil is important because you want your bulbs to last for years. Amend heavy clay soils with organic matter—compost or peat moss. Beware that a fertilizer containing bone meal might be dug up by dogs. The general rule is to plant bulbs to a depth 3 times the height of the bulb or more. Bulbs planted too shallow may be weak or not overwinter well. Space larger bulbs at least 6” apart and small ones 3”.

After bulbs bloom, they need to store food for next year so let their leaves “ripen”; when ripe, leaves will turn brown and readily pull free. Bulbs multiply–the clump gets larger each year. Eventually, you may need to dig up your bulbs and divide them. Hybrid tulips decline and may need to be replaced every 5 years or so. Tulips are sometimes planted as annuals—pulled up and discarded after they bloom to make room for other flowers.

Where to plant: Bulbs can be planted under trees, between perennial flowers, or in a bed where you will be planting annual flowers. Or, naturalize bulbs in your lawn. Bulbs do well in full sun or partial shade, but avoid planting them in overly wet spots.

Plant bulbs in large masses of individual species. The smaller the flower, the more bulbs you will need to create a stunning mass of color. Mix bulbs into your perennial flower beds so the foliage of the perennial flower, as it grows, masks the dying leaves of your bulbs. Bulbs are effective planted among ground cover plants like lamium or sedum .   Plan for a continuous bloom of bulbs all spring by planting early bulbs, mid-season bulbs, and late-spring bloomers.   Fall crocus (colchicum) grows leaves in the spring which die back and then, in the fall, it blooms; its pale lavender color makes Colchicum a real attention getter against fall colors of yellow and orange.

Plant some bulbs this fall– next spring you’ll be glad you did.

By Bonnie Hickey

The majority of hardy bulbs we grow in Montana originated in the Mediterranean or areas of similar climate, which have wet winters and dry summers. These plants grow and flower during periods of good weather and then go dormant to survive inhospitable periods. Understanding the bulb’s preferences is the key to success in growing bulbs. These expectations are fairly simple, making bulbs one of the easiest flowering plants to grow.

Soil Prep and Planting

Generally, bulbs should be planted no sooner than 6 weeks before frost. Exceptions are Colchicum, Lilies, Fritillaria, Erythronium, which should be planted as soon as received. They prefer a sunny location (remember – what is shady now may not be in the spring, if the shade is caused by deciduous trees). They also require a well draining soil.

If you will be planting a lot of bulbs in an area, begin by loosening the soil to a depth of 12 inches. Top the soil with 1 inch compost and 2 inches of peat moss. If your soil is heavy clay, also add 2 inches of soil pep or sand to improve aeration and drainage. Blend the amendments into the loosened soil.

For larger bulbs such as tulips and daffodils, remove the soil from the planting spot to a depth of 8 inches. Work bone meal into the soil at the bottom of the hole (2 tbsp/ 1 sq ft, 10 lb/ 250 sq ft). Set the bulbs pointed end up in the bottom of the hole. Space tulips 4-6” apart and daffodils 6-8” apart. Cover with soil and water in well.

Follow the same procedure for other bulbs, planting the bulbs at a depth that is 3-4 times the bulb size (Crocus at 3”, etc.).

Further Care

Once the bulb’s leaves emerge from the ground in the spring, top dress with a balanced granular fertilizer such as a 17/17/17. Remove spent flowers to prolong bloom and preserve strength. Allow the leaves to ripen fully before removing. They will turn yellow or brown and will readily pull free when they are ripe. This takes about 6 weeks.

Many bulbs will multiply and the clump will get larger and showier with each passing year. Eventually, you may want to dig the bulbs and divide them in the summer to start new clumps. Mark their location so that you can find them in the summer. Other bulbs are shorter lived and their flower show will begin to decline, such as tulips. In this case, don’t wait for the foliage to ripen. When they are done blooming, pull them up immediately, while you know where they are.

Grape Hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) grows leaves in the spring while it is flowering and again in the fall. Fall crocus (Colchicum) will grow large tulip size leaves in the spring, which will then disappear. The lavender blooms then rise from the ground in fall, as the rest of the garden goes to sleep.

Bulb Combinations

Large sweeps of a single type and color of bulb will have high impact. Example: A mass of red Apeldoorn tulip behind an equal mass of King Alfred type daffodil would be a sure attention getter. A sweep of grape hyacinth or Siberian squill through a garden might simulate a meandering brook.
Another look, best seen close up, can be had by custom mixing tulip colors in one planting hole: pink, white, lavender is sweet; black/purple and white is elegant; white, pink and rose red is very rich, or choose a pastel mix of pink, apricot, and soft yellow.

Under plant tulips or daffodils with a smaller bulb such as chionodoxa or squill for a layered look. Create custom blends in your favorite colors, or choose colors that coordinate with your interior if you will be cutting blooms for bouquets.

Bulb / Plant Combinations


This refers to planting bulbs in your yard as though they grew there naturally. You will need to choose bulbs that are especially hardy, ones that multiply readily. Choices might include Chionodoxa, Colchicum, Crocus, Muscari, Squill, all types of Daffodils, species Tulip, Erythronium, Species Iris, and Alliums.

Bulbs can be planted throughout the lawn. In areas you will want to begin mowing in late spring, choose early bulbs like Siberian Squill or Crocus. Daffodils are spectacular in a lawn, but you won’t be able to mow for a while. You might try putting them along an edge that you can hold off on mowing or plant them out in an area of rough grass or wildflowers that won’t be mowed till later.

One effect is to select a mixture of bulbs, scatter by hand and plant them where they fall. Or – select 2-3 varieties but do not mix. Scatter and plant one variety in a drift, followed by the next variety, to create a tapestry. Small bulbs are easily planted with two people, if one person digs in with the shovel and pries forward while the other person tucks the bulbs behind the shovel blade. Then stomp the soil back into place.

Don’t miss planting within groves of aspen or birch. Masses of one taller flower and one lower flower have the most impact.

What Are Bulbs?

We use the name loosely to apply to a variety of spring or fall planted flowers. By definition, we separate these plants into the following groups.


Layers of modified leaves surrounding a flower bud. Stems are produced from the base each year until its strength is used up. Includes Tulips, Hyacinths, Daffodils, Lilies, and Alliums. Propagated by bulblets, which develop off the basal plate. Keep the bulblets and discard old bulbs. Bulblets will not bloom for several years. With Daffodils you can replant the parent bulb.


Solid, with no differentiation of tissue. Stems grow from the top and produce offsets to multiply. Includes Crocus, Colchicum.


A section of underground stem, swollen with stored nutrients. It develops growth buds or eyes along its surface. Includes Winter Aconites, Anemones, potatoes. Propagate by divisions containing at least three eyes.


Thickened storage stems growing horizontally below the surface. Roots grow out of the lower surface and eyes on the upper surface produce the plants. Propagated by division. Includes Iris, Lily of the Valley, Sweet Potato.

Forcing Bulbs

Forcing is done through the fall and early winter for a succession of blooms indoors during the winter months. You will simulate winter by potting up the bulbs and holding them at a temperature between 35 – 50 degrees for the necessary amount of time. Bulbs for forcing include Hardy Narcissus especially Unsurpassable and Quail, tender Narcissus such as Paperwhites, some Tulips, Hyacinths, Crocus, species Iris, Muscari.

Store bulbs in the refrigerator in an open paper bag until you are ready to pot. Do not store them in the fruit bin. Once planted, keep the soil moist but not wet. Store in the refrigerator, a partially heated garage, or a crawl space while the roots develop:

Bring them into a slightly warmer, brighter location once roots are well formed. The bulbs think it is spring and leaves will begin to grow and extend. When the buds begin to show, the plants can be moved to a sunny spot to continue developing. This second growing period will take 2 weeks for Paperwhites and up to 4 weeks for Tulips.

Paperwhites and Hyacinths can also be grown in a pebble filled decorative container. Put some gravel in the bottom of the container, closely space the bulbs on top of the gravel, then top with remaining gravel to support the bulbs. Add water to just touch the base of the bulbs. Refrigerate for the required time – you will be able to watch the roots grow if you use a glass container.

A Sampling of Hardy Bulbs



Native to Montana. Used as a food by native Americans. 2-3’ tall with sky blue starlike
flowers in long clusters.


“Glory of the Snow”. April, Sun to Light Shade, 6” tall. Showy clusters of pink, blue or
white starlike blooms. Spreads well.


“Fall Crocus”, Plant 3” deep in prepares hole, part shade to full sun, planted in fall, flowers appear soon after planting, foliage appears in the spring. Prolific, rodent proof.

Crocus, Dutch

Larger blooms than bunch crocus, easy to force, one of the earliest bulbs to bloom.

Crocus, Bunch

Smaller flowers but more per cluster. Striking color combinations.


Foxtail Lily, yellow to orange flowers on 3-4’ tall stalks. Traffic stopping. Requires a deeply dug hole with sand in the bottom for drainage and sand mixed into the backfill soil. Fragile roots – Handle carefully.


“Dogtooth violet” or Trout Lily. Woodland plant. A native, nodding yellow flower. Excellent naturalizer under aspen. May take a couple years to establish.

Fritillaria Meleagris

“Checkered lily”, charming dainty flower, plant near walk or door. Plant as soon as received.

Fritillaria Imperiallis

Large skunky smelling bulbs give rise to spectacular red or yellow blooms on 3’ stalks in late May.


“Snowdrops”. Blooms very early. Prefers part shade. Plant as soon as received. Zone 3.


Needs exceptionally well drained soil, Plant 8” deep, good for forcing, fragrant.

Iris, Danford

4” tall, lemon yellow, prefers slightly acis soil.

Iris, Reticulata

4” tall, various shades of blue to purple, prefers alkaline soil.


“Snowflake”, 4-5” nodding white blooms.

Muscari, Armeniacum

“Grape Hyacinth” , Full sun to part shade, plant as soon as received. Blooms in early spring, second set of grass like leaves appears in fall. Purple or white. M. Latifolium – one single wider leaf. Two tone blue and purple flowers.


Long lived, prolific, easy to grow. Part shade to full sun. Plant early. Rodent Proof.


“Siberian Squill”, terrifically hardy, prolific, excellent edger or naturalizer.


Full sun but will tolerate part shade. Work the soil deeply and provide good drainiage. Plant as
late as possible, store till then at 40-60 degrees. Short lived. Some “perennial” hybrids, species
Tulips, and Darwin Hybrids will last for years. Plant 8-10” deep to improve longevity and deter rodents who relish Tulips.

Early Tulips:


Late Spring:

Species Tulips:

By Jan Cashman

A friend and customer came in our nursery yesterday and announced, “I need some color!”  This last winter was long and snowy.  Spring has been cold and rainy, and slow in arriving.  We’re all sick of the white, brown, and gray tones of winter and ready for color—blue sky, green grass, and colorful flowers!

The colors we use, whether in our landscape design, our home’s interior, clothing, or a painting, create a mood.  Warm, bright colors—red, yellow, orange—advance and are cheerful.  Blues and lavenders recede and are restful.   In our summer landscapes, the green of grass and leaves becomes our background color.  We then add other colors with flowering bulbs, annual and perennial flowers, ornamental grasses, vines, trees and shrubs with flowers and colorful leaves and twigs, and evergreens.

Flowering bulbs like tulips and daffodils, available in many colors, provide first color in the spring, but must be planted in the fall.  Don’t forget, next September or October, to plant some colorful bulbs.

It’s easy to create your favorite color scheme with annual flowers that come in a rainbow of colors and bloom all summer.  But, many gardeners are planting perennials instead of annual flowers so they won’t have to replant every year.  This makes sense, but, since most perennial flowers bloom for only a few weeks, plan for perennials that bloom at different times throughout the summer.  Tuck a few colorful annuals like zinnias or petunias into your perennial bed for added color.

May and June are the glory months for colorful, flowering trees and shrubs.  Starting with the pale pink blossoms of the plum family, we move into the stunning flowering crabapples with blossoms from white to pink to almost red in late May.  Then, come the lilacs.  Lilac varieties can give you fragrant blooms for over a month, starting with the early and common lilacs and ending with white Japanese tree lilacs, which bloom here in late June or early July.  Some lilacs have pink (Montaigne) or blue (President Grevy) flowers.  Finally, colorful shrub roses start blooming in June and many continue to bloom all summer.  One favorite is hardy, cherry-pink Winnipeg Parks Rose.

Plants with gold, red, or variegated leaves can add spark to your landscape.  Heuchera (Coral Bells) is a favorite perennial for shade, with leaves ranging from golden yellow to variegated to chocolate brown.  There is a even new bleeding heart with golden leaves.  Succulent, sun-loving sedums, both short and tall varieties, have leaves in colors from gold to gray-green to red.  Some ornamental grasses have golden, variegated, deep red, or bluish leaves.

‘Darts Gold’ ninebark is a popular shrub with yellow leaves; taller ‘Diablo’ ninebark’s leaves are reddish-purple.  One of our best selling trees is Canada red cherry.  Gardeners like this small, hardy tree for its deep burgundy leaves that contrast with green grass; it also has fragrant white flowers in the spring and red chokecherries in the fall.  Many flowering crabs have colorful leaves; radiant crabapple has green leaves tinged with bronze; thunderchild has deep purple leaves.  The bright orange berries of mountain ash are showy in late summer.

Maples and burning bush are only two of the many plants whose leaves become a blaze of color in the fall.  Plants like Autumn brilliance serviceberry, which has white flowers in the spring, followed by showy, purplish-black fruit, and brilliant red-orange fall leaves, provide three seasons of color.   ‘Miss Kim’ is the only lilac whose leaves turn burgundy-red in the fall.  Winter landscapes would be pretty drab without evergreens, so don’t forget them in your landscape planning.  The steel blue of globe blue spruce makes a statement in a shrub bed, summer and winter.

The color of your pottery, or the color of your house, even the color of the mulch you are using, all are part of your landscape’s color scheme.  Terra cotta containers provide a neutral background for flowers.  But be daring and plant a cobalt blue container with contrasting orange flowers!  (Mix in a few blue flowers to echo the color of the container.)  Or paint a shed door or Adirondack chairs bright red, yellow, or blue.   Natural, neutral wood mulches, like shredded cedar and soil pep (ground up bark), blend into the landscape.   Pinkish scoria rock or dark red lava rock mulches can provide colorful accents.

For continuity, repeat colors throughout your landscape and flower beds.  Mix and layer plants with colorful flowers, leaves, and fruit for color in your yard year round!

by Jan Cashman

No flower is showier than a dahlia.  The colors of these showy flowers range from white to rich yellow through pinks and red to purples, and sometimes are bicolored.  They bloom in August here and continue to bloom until the first frost.   Native to Mexico, they were first imported to Europe by Andreas Dahl (hence the name) as a vegetable in the 1700’s.  Interest in growing them as an ornamental flower began soon after, and, in Belgium, large, double flowers were bred as early as 1815.  Today there are a range of sizes and colors unmatched in other garden flowers.

Dahlias are classified according to the size and form of their flowerheads.  Flowers range in size from one inch to over 10 inches.  The large-flowered cactus and dinnerplate dahlias have become popular today.  Some of the dwarf bedding dahlias are grown from seed, but most dahlias are grown from tubers.  Plants range in height from 12” to over 5 feet!

Growing Tips:

Dahlias won’t survive frost.  So the plant has time to produce flowers in our short summer season, start the tubers indoors in April and plant outside after the soil has warmed up and the danger of frost has passed.  Or grow them in a cold frame to protect them.  Choose a sunny site out of the wind when you are ready to plant them outside.  Dahlias are not fussy about soils as long as the soil is warm and not water-logged, in fact, they prefer slightly alkaline soils.   If you have heavy clay soil that retains lots of water, work in organic matter to help lighten it.  Dahlias are heavy feeders, so dig in a slow release fertilizer before planting.

Space the large flowering varieties at least 18” apart so their roots don’t intertwine.  If they are crowded too close together, the plants will reach for the light and become tall and spindly.  Because of their shallow root systems, most dahlias will need to be staked or they will blow over.  Pound a tall stake next to each plant and tie them to the stake when they get to be a foot tall.  Continue to tie them to the stake every 18”.  Or you can use tomato cages or other commercial plant supports.

Expert dahlia growers pinch back the central shoot to encourage the development of side shoots.  Later, extra side shoots can also be pinched off so you get fewer, but larger, flowers.  Slugs love dahlias, so it’s a good idea to spread slug bait around the plants before they emerge.

In the fall, after the first frost and when the foliage is withered, trim back the stems of your dahlias to about 6”.  Lift the tubers. Do not let the tubers freeze, but dry them and store them in perlite, moss, or soil pep in a cool place.

Dahlias will grow well in a container, using a soilless growing mix.  When planting them, place the tubers horizontally (sprouts up), 5 to 6 inches deep in the container, as you would in the ground.   Barely cover the tuber with soil and backfill as it grows.  The pot does not have to be deep because dahlias’ roots stay near the surface, but make sure the pot has plenty of drainage holes.  Keep your potted dahlia inside in a sunny spot until the danger of frost is past.  You’ll need to stake your dahlia whether it is left in the container or transplanted into the ground.

There are a number of gardeners in Bozeman growing dahlias, so we know it can be done here.  One local gardener says she uses chicken compost on her dahlias and they are tall and beautiful.  Missoula and Kalispell both have dahlia societies that have shows in August and September. Try growing dahlias yourself, either in a container or in the ground.  You might grow some nice enough to enter!

by Jan Cashman

By now, if you were going to plant spring-flowering bulbs in your garden, hopefully, you have completed that task.  But, many of us like to plant bulbs in pots and “force” them to bloom early for flowers and color indoors during the winter.    It is not hard to force bulbs, but a few steps must be followed for success.

What Bulbs to Force

Hardy tulips, narcissus, hyacinths, and crocus all force well.  Flowers with shorter stems work better; they won’t tip over as easily.  When you purchase them, look on the label to see if they are “good for forcing.”  Plant only one variety per container.  Tender paperwhites narcissus and amaryllis are for forcing indoors only, since they will not survive our winters in the ground outside.


Any pot can be used for forcing bulbs.  If your pot doesn’t have drainage holes, put gravel in the bottom to help with drainage.  Use any bagged potting soil.   The noses of the bulbs should be exposed; do not bury the bulbs.  You can plant bulbs closer together in a pot than you would in your garden.  A six inch pot can hold up to 6 tulip or daffodil bulbs or 15 crocuses.


Water your pots immediately after planting; then keep the soil uniformly moist during the cold treatment period and after, when they are brought in the house.

Cold Treatment

Bulbs need a cold temperature treatment of 35 to 48 degrees for 10 to 12 weeks or more.  A dark crawl space or garage that stays cool but doesn’t freeze works well for this.  During this time the bulbs grow roots.  After their roots are well formed and the shoot has started to emerge, bring them into a slightly warmer location for a couple of days, then into the house.  The bulbs will flower in 3 to 4 weeks.

Forcing in Water

Crocus, narcissus, and fragrant hyacinth can be forced in water in clear, glass vases made for this.   Place water in the bottom of the vase and the bulb in the top.  Water should come just to the base of the bulb; the roots will reach down into it.  Never submerge bulbs!  Hardy bulbs like hyacinths will still need a chilling period in a cool, dark room, for 8 to 12 weeks for the root system to develop. You will know it is OK to bring the bulb into the warmth of your home when the shoot is 2-3 inches high.   You can also use pebbles, gravel, or marbles in a decorative container; the pebbles will support the bulbs.


The ‘force in water’ method also works well for non-hardy, wonderfully fragrant paperwhites.   A short, 2 to 3 week, chilling period is recommended for paperwhites, but they will do fine with no chilling.  You can also grow paperwhites in a flower pot with soil.


The huge flowers of amaryllis are striking in any home.   Amaryllis need no chilling time.  Plant them in a pot in sterile soil so 1/3 to ½ of the bulb is exposed.  Keep in a warm spot in your house, water, and in 6 to 8 weeks, you will have flowers.  Once the flowers have developed, a cooler location will prolong flowering time.  Amaryllis can also be forced in just water.

For Christmas, force bright red amaryllis or clear white paperwhites;  pink amaryllis are pretty for Valentine’s Day;  yellow narcissus for Easter.  Whatever bulbs you force now will turn the inside of your home into a flower garden for the long winter months.

by Jan Cashman

The summer gardening season is short here. The first frost kills tender annuals and nipsthe tops of some perennials. Suddenly, our gardens don’t look so good. Here are some ideas to brighten up your gardens and extend the season:

Plant fall blooming perennials. Mums, asters, purple coneflower (Echinacea) and brown eyed susans (Rudbeckia) are commonly planted flowers that give late color to yourperennial garden. These are all good in our fall gardens, but there are a few others that are equally showy. White ‘David’ garden phlox is a favorite of mine. It blooms for a long period starting in mid-August and will take some frost. When cut, its old-fashioned fragrance fills the house; the flowers last a long time in water. Autumn Joy Sedum is easy to grow and provides four season interest in the garden, especially in the fall when the flower clusters turn a rosy-red. The perennial Joe Pye Weed, named after an American herbalist, blooms late with rose-red blooms that attract butterflies. Its height makes it a perfect background plant. Even though they are done blooming, some perennials such as hardy geraniums, make a fall impact in our gardens when their foliage turns bright red.

Showy and unusual, the lavender-colored flowers of the low-growing Autumn crocus (Colchicum) will have your friends and neighbors asking what it is. This long-lived bulb is planted in the fall and blooms in the fall.

Ornamental grasses are perfect for fall gardens with their golden seed heads and leaves. The tall grass called Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens’ turns red-orange in the fall. Panicum ‘Shenandoah’ turns dark red and has delicate, beadlike seed heads.

The first frost takes many of our annuals like marigolds, zinnias and impatiens. But other annuals, such as dusty miller and snapdragons, tough out the frost and look fine. Leave these annuals as long as you can, and interplant with ornamental kale and mums where you have removed the frozen plants. I have had good luck with fall planting of pansies; they came back full and beautifully early in the spring, where my spring-planted pansies came back sporadically and small.

Your container gardens may be looking a bitleggy by late summer. Cut back the plants that need it and pull out those that are failing. Then tuck in ornamental kale, pansies, or mums to give your containers a freshfall look. Ornamental grasses are a perfect plant for fallcontainers. Small evergreens added to your containers take the look into early winter.

Fall is a good time to plant trees and shrubs because the weather is cooler and the plants are starting to go dormant. There is less transplant shock and the plantshave time to root in before winter. Quaking aspens’ golden fall color makes our valley beautiful. Birch, too. New maple trees with stunning fall leaves are being selected for hardiness each year. Some are surviving well here. Shorter tatarian and ginnala maples are hardier and have bright red-orange leaves in the fall.

Burning bush, cotoneaster, spireas, and dwarf cranberrybush shrubs give our yards brilliant fall color. Less often planted, but equally brilliant in the fall, are tall, hardy nannyberry viburnum and drought tolerant, native skunkbrush sumac. There is even a lilac whose leaves turn dark burgundy in the fall called Miss Kim.

Don’t be too quick to cut back your flowers this fall. I leave my perennials until the foliage turns brown. Leave ornamental grasses and tall sedums and they will add interest to your gardenall winter. Other flowers can be cut, dried and used for flower arrangements and Christmas decorating.

There are lots of plants-annuals, perennials, grasses, trees, and shrubs-that give your yard color in the fall. Plant some in your perennial garden, annual garden, containers, and landscape for a burst of color.


by Jan Cashman

Daffodils-Narcissus-Jonquil–which is the correct name? Narcissus is the botanical name for this genus of spring-flowering bulbs. The Narcissus genus takes its name from the mythological Greek youth Narcissus. He was so in love with his own reflection in a lake that the Goddess Aphrodite turned him into a white daffodil, forever bowing its head to gaze into the mirrored water. Daffodil is the common English name, sometimes used for all varieties of narcissus; the name jonquil originally applied to only one species, but is now used for many flowers in this group. Native to the Mediterranean region, a few species of Narcissus are also found through Central Asia to China.

Daffodils are an easy-to-grow bulb for our climate-most types are extremely winter-hardy. Unlike some of the hybrid tulips, daffodils increase in vigor and quantity each year. Deer and rodents avoid them. If you’ve planted tulips in the fall, only to have the deer eat them off as soon as they come up in the spring, try daffodils. Their leaves and bulbs contain terrible tasting alkaloids.

After tulips, daffodils are the next most popular spring-blooming bulb. Nearly 150 million are sold in the U.S. each year and over 200 varieties are grown commercially. Daffodils make great cut flowers. The variety of color, size, shape, and bloom times of daffodils is far greater than most gardeners know. There are eleven horticultural classifications of daffodils, according to the flower shape, number of flowers on a stem, size, double or single, color, and hardiness. One of the best-known trumpet-types, classic is King Alfred, a classic, pure-yellow daffodil. However, not all daffodils are yellow. Other colors include combinations of white, pink, orange, and red.

One of our staff’s favorite daffodils is Pheasant’s Eye, often called “the Original Poet’s Daffodil”. It is an old heirloom species-type (not a hybrid) with white petals and a small red-rimmed, yellow cup. The pure white Thalia daffodil is one of my favorites. Bonnie Hickey, our bulb buyer, has planted many different daffodils in her yard. She especially likes the fragrant species-types, such as Jetfire, a short, early and long-blooming daffodil with red-orange cup and deep yellow petals. The small, golden-yellow Quail is another of Bonnie’s favorites (I like Quail too; I have planted it along the paths in my perennial garden.) Try double daffodils, they really don’t look much like daffodils at all. Rip van Winkle is a delightful small double heirloom daffodil with spiky yellow petals.

When you’re planting daffodils, consider how they’ll look combined with the other plants in your garden. Bonnie suggests planting white daffodils next to bleeding heart or yellow ones with pulmonaria. Dwarf yellow daffodils look perky emerging in a mass of spring-blooming, blue creeping phlox or pink saponaria. Small grape hyacinth contrast nicely with yellow daffodils. In a rock garden, plant daffodils next to bluish dwarf conifers or cool-season ornamental grasses such as blue fescue. For a swath of color, daffodils look best planted in groupings of a dozen or more bulbs. “Naturalizing” is a term used to describe planting daffodils in drifts in lawns or under trees to create a natural effect.

When shopping for daffodils, purchase topsize or double nose bulbs which produce 2 to 3 flower stems. For best results plant daffodils in a sunny location with good drainage. Plant them at least 3 times the depth of the bulb; the larger bulbs should be 6″ apart. Fertilize with a high phosphorous fertilizer or bone meal when planting and, again, every year in early spring. It is important to wait until the leaves of your daffodils have turned brown to cut them off, so they have time to store energy in the bulb for next year’s bloom. One way to hide their foliage until it dies back is to plant the bulbs near later-blooming perennials with attractive foliage, such as daylilies or hardy geraniums. Divide daffodils in the fall if they become crowded or blooming may be diminished.

Daffodils can be forced, which means growing them in a pot inside the house. Plant the bulbs in potting soil with the tip of the bulb showing. Water, and store in a cool, dark area for 13 or more weeks. Then, bring them into the warmth of your house in a sunny location and they will flower in 3 to 4 weeks. Choose varieties that are recommended for forcing; some varieties are too tall and become floppy. Hardy daffodils you have forced can then be planted outside in the spring and will bloom again in a year or two.

The strongly fragrant paperwhite narcissus are a commonly forced bulb around Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Paperwhites are not winter-hardy here, so they can only be grown indoors. Most paperwhites don’t need the 13 week cool period, just plant them in pebbles or a bulb vase-they don’t need soil. An unusual trick to keep paperwhites from growing too tall and flopping over is to add 10% alcohol (use any hard liquor) to the water. The alcohol retards their growth but doesn’t affect the flower.

Wordsworth praised the beauty of daffodils in his famous poem

“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;…
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.”

Plant a bunch-you’ll see what he meant.


by Jan Cashman

One of Jerry’s favorite poems is As Rare As a Day in June by Lowell. The poem is about plants and animals coming to life in June. June is a favorite month for gardeners because everything is blooming. Gardens have been planted and are up and growing. Lots of the work is done and the enjoyment begins. Let’s look at our favorite plants that bloom in June:

Lilacs started blooming in May, but the late lilacs and the Japanese tree lilacs flower in June. Dwarf Korean and Miss Kim lilacs bloom in early June with wonderfully fragrant flowers. Hybrids of later blooming lilacs (Syringa villosa), such as Donald Wyman, an extremely hardy and vigorous deep purple lilac, bloom in mid-June. Then, even later, the huge, fragrant white blooms of Japanese tree lilacs open.

In early June, German bearded iris flower in shades of blues, whites, pinks, and purples. Planted from corms in late summer, few perennials are as reliable and thrive as easily as iris. Our bedding plant grower, Nancy, is partial to the variegated leafed irises, whose bicolor leaves make them an interesting perennial in the landscape even after they have bloomed.

The white flowers on shrubs of viburnums such as Snowball, and the trailing, showy Bridalwreath spirea arrive in June. Roses are on the top of everyone’s list for colorful, fragrant June blossoms. The bright yellows of old-fashioned Harrison’s and Persian yellow shrub roses will stop you in your tracks along with the closely related Austrian copper. These three roses bloom only once a year, in June, but when they’re blooming, they’re spectacular in their glory. Other hardy shrub roses will bloom in June and then intermittently all season; some even flower continuously. A few of our best hardy shrub roses include the rambling dark pink William Baffin, the low-growing, but vigorous, red Adelaide Hoodless, and the small Winnipeg Parks that looks a lot like a hybrid tea rose. Morden Centennial is one of the best pink shrub roses.

Perennials blooming in June include the bold, in-your-face, oranges of Oriental poppies, lilies (I have a dwarf lily that pokes its pure yellow head up in my perennial bed amid the blues of the catmint, salvia, and hardy geraniums), and popular blue salvias (popular for good reasons-their true-blue color, reliability, and deer resistance). Hardy geraniums are my personal favorite June-blooming perennial because of their aromatic foliage, variety of sizes and colors, and ease of growth. Nothing like the annual flower we call geranium, these perennial geraniums are in the same genus as the native “sticky geranium” or “cranesbill” you will see in the wild.

Many of us think that our best perennial is the peony. Hardy and long-lived in Northern climates, its fragrance and huge red, pink or white blossoms, makes these garden staples everyone’s favorite.

In June, strawberries are the first fruit to ripen in the garden. Nothing tastes better than home-grown, ripe strawberries. This year we carried some different varieties of strawberries: Cyclone, a Junebearing variety (in other words, all the fruit ripens at once in late June) listed as a vigorous, productive variety that is good for our high elevations. Tristar is a day neutral (repeat fruiting every six weeks into fall) variety of strawberry that has done well here.

When you’re hiking in June, you’ll see wildflowers starting to bloom: the dry sides of the hills are alive with large, bright yellow, arrow-leaved balsamroot with its hairy stems and leaves. The yellow of the balsamroot flower contrasts with the blue flowers of wild larkspur and lupine.

“And what is so rare as a day in June?…The flush of life may well be seen thrilling back over hills and valleys….Everything is happy now, Everything is upward striving” says Lowell. June is the month of graduations, weddings, and Father’s Day. But, more than these, June is the month of flowers and growth.



by Jan Cashman

Fall is the time to plant hardy bulbs for beautiful blooms in your garden next spring. Most bulbs are perennial; they need to be planted only once and will come up and bloom year after year. Not all of what we call bulbs are true bulbs. Some are corms, tuberous roots, or rhizomes, but they all store the plant’s food and contain buds that grow into the new plant. During the growing season these bulbous plants replenish their food supply inside the bulb for the coming year. Then the bulbs can be dug and replanted.

When we think of bulbs, tulips and daffodils come to mind. But there are other lovely, exotic bulbs with hard-to-pronounce names that will give your yard a show of color. Planting these uncommon bulbs with their unfamiliar names can give you a long range of blooms, from early spring through the summer; some even bloom in the fall. These minor bulbs’ heights range from tiny 3″ Eranthus to 5’tall foxtail lilies. Many are fragrant.

Most of the unusual bulbs are short and look best planted in masses. Mix these early-blooming bulbs for a spring show in your garden. Hardy, easy-care Chionodoxas often bloom before the snow melts. The flowers are white or shades of blue, lavender, or pink. Eranthus or Winter Aconite is another of the earliest-blooming spring-flowering bulbs. Its yellow flowers, that look like buttercups, grow from pea-sized bulbs. Plant them close together in the front of your flower bed.

Short, white Galanthus or snowdrops are another early bulb. Snowdrops do best in dappled shade. Squill or Scilla is an exceptional small bulb that is hardy in all zones and unfazed by frost. It grows in almost any soil type. The pretty flower of Squill is one of the few true blue flowers; most ‘blue’ flowers contain some purple.

When most people think of iris, they envision the tall German bearded iris that bloom in late May and early June here. But, dwarf (4″) Iris reticulata blooms early in the spring and has deep purple flowers with a yellow blotch on each petal. Its intense color is a real show-stopper when the rest of the garden is still brown.

Puschkinia is a favorite of gardeners who want an unusual flower. This small, hardy, trouble-free bulb blooms a little later (mid-spring) and is a little taller (6″) than some of the bulbs just mentioned. Its striped, light blue flowers are appealing and the deer stay away from them. Puschkinia prefers some shade.

Snowflake is a bulb whose flowers resemble lily-of-the-valley, about one foot tall. The species of snowflake that we sell blooms in mid-spring but a rarer species called “Autumn snowflake” blooms in late summer. Camassia quamash, also called Indian quamash, is a wildflower Native Americans used to cook and eat, although the bulbs are poisonous when eaten raw. This bulb blooms later in the spring with deep blue, star-shaped flower spikes 18″ tall.

Alliums or ornamental onions, are interesting and deer resistant bulbs for this area. Their big, spherical flowers, usually purple, will stand up above other flowers in your beds. Giant allium can be 4 feet tall or more. Bloom times of alliums vary with the species from mid-spring through mid-summer. Their unusual shapes and textures, some have huge flowers bigger than a foot in diameter that look like fireworks exploding, make them a must to add to your perennial garden.

It is always a pleasant surprise in September to come across the lavender blossoms of Colchicums. This unusual bulb, sometimes called autumn crocus though not a real crocus, produces glossy leaves in the spring which turn yellow and die. In September, the flowers, that look a bit like water lilies, emerge without the leaves. Plant Colchicum in the fall, even though they might be blooming when you purchase them.

There are some unusual species of common bulbs. Tarda, a species, or wild, tulip, is easy-to-grow. Its yellow flowers in May become attractive seed pods. Crocus sieberi is a showy, early spring-blooming crocus only 3″ tall with deep lilac flowers that have white centers and yellow stamens.

Instead of the common grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum), try a different species. All Muscari are deer proof and reliable. Daffodils are also deer resistant, but for a change from all the yellow daffodils, try white or peach or orange.

Plant your bulbs in September or October to give the roots time to grow and store energy for next spring’s flowers. Plant them deep in our climate, at least 3 times the height of the bulb and incorporate a high phosphorous fertilizer into your planting hole. Whether you plant masses of tiny early-blooming squill, snowdrops, and chionodoxa, tall allium for summer texture in your garden, or fall-blooming crocus, now is the time to do it, before the snow flies.