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Gardening Columns

Plan for Spring Color

First published on on November 6, 2008, by Suzanne DeJohn

Fall has arrived, and the vibrant jewel tones of summer are slowly but surely giving way to the subtler hues of winter. Soon, the color will have drained down the hillsides, and we'll be left with a much more subdued, though no less beautiful, landscape.

Before you hunker down for winter, fast-forward to early spring for a moment. Picture your yard: the brown grass, the scraggly flowerbeds filled with dried remnants of this summer's show. Do you see anything else? If not, then you definitely need to hurry to the store or place an order for 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 the house, 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, primary hues that satisfied the hunger for color stirred by a long winter of deprivation. Interspersed among these were bright blue grape hyacinths and scilla.

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 new, such as varieties with pink or raspberry-red cups.

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 peter out 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 their 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.

Brighten up the Lawn
Although I've always loved the look of crocus and scilla in the lawn, I've tried planting them and it just isn't practical in our yard. It's been difficult enough teaching our dogs to stay out of the flowerbeds -- I can't expect them to step around the flowers in the lawn! However, if yours is a more dog-friendly yard, 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. Come spring, you'll thank me!


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