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When Lilies Take You By Surprise

As a kid, when I saw the naked ladies pop up in the yard, it was always bittersweet.  Their bold presence always made me smile, but I also knew it was almost time to go back to school. The ever-present surprise lilies, also known as spider lilies, naked ladies or naked lilies, were a sad reminder that summer was coming to an end. They are “naked” because the blooms arrive before the foliage and their stems are bare.

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Paperwhites with Heart

This Valentines’ Day give paperwhites with “heart.” Follow these three easy steps to decorate potted paperwhites with a pussy willow stem heart.


  • Paperwhites planted in a 6-inch container
  • (2) fresh pussy willow branches (available at florists)
  • Wired green floral stick (available at florists or craft stores)
  • Red ribbon
  • Decorative container


    1. Insert the wide ends of the pussy willow branches into the soil at an angle so they make a V.

Paperwhites for Valentines

  1. Draw together the upper ends and tie with the wired floral stick.
  2. Pull the floral stick all the way down to the pot and push it into the soil. Insert it at an angle to make it secure.
  3. For a pop of color wrap the willow stems in red ribbon.
  4. That’s all there is to it!

Tabletop Spring Garden

Welcome spring into your home with a tabletop garden planted with spring blooms from your local garden center or grocery store.

Potted flowering plants
Plastic baggies
Decorative container
Sheet moss

Remove each plant from its pot and slip it, soil and all, into a plastic baggie. This is optional. If your decorative container is large enough to accommodate the plants in their pots, simply slip them into the container. Otherwise the plastic baggies make it easier to arrange the plants.

Once the plants are in the container cover the bags or pots with sheet moss to conceal. That’s it!

For the longest life, place your tabletop garden in a spot away from source of heat. Water the soil with a spray mister.

For this arrangement I used pots of forced ‘Tete-a-tete’ narcissus, primroses and variegated ivy. After the blooms fade I’ll plant the ‘Tet-a-tete’ in the garden. This variety is a prolific multiplier.
Purple hyacinths growing in pots in a kitchen

How to Grow Hyacinths Indoors

Forcing hyacinth bulbs to bloom indoors is simple; it just takes a little patience. It can take as long as 13 weeks for the bulbs to come into flower.

Hyacinth bulbs require a period of cooling before they will bloom. Florist suppliers often have precooled hyacinth bulbs available, ready for forcing. If you can’t find those, just store the bulbs for 8 to 12 weeks in a cold frame, outdoor shed, garage, or other dark area with temperatures from 35 to 45 degrees F. It’s important that you don’t expose bulbs to freezing temperatures and if you put them in the fridge, don’t place them next to apples. Apples produce a gas that will cause the bulbs to rot.


forcing hyacinths into bloom

Once the bulbs have been precooled, you can force them into bloom in almost any planting medium: potting soil, gravel and water or just plain water. To make it easy on yourself try using glass “forcing jars.” You can find these at florist shops, hobby suppliers or garden centers. They look like hour glasses with the tops cut off.

To begin, place the bulb in a glass container and add water up to, but not touching, the bottom of the bulb (about 1/4″ below the base of the bulb). Bulbs sitting in water are prone to rot. This is where the forcing jars come in handy because they are cinched at the waist and the bulbs sit nicely just above the water.

growing hyacinths in forcing jars

Place the bulb and jar in a cool, dark area (about 50 degrees F – a cool cellar, an unheated garage or a regular family-style refrigerator) until the root system is well developed and growth from the top has begun. Do not store these in a refrigerator with fruits, especially apples. As fruits and some vegetables ripen, they release ethylene gas, which can kill or damage the flower.

Keep cool for 10 weeks. Add water periodically, always keeping the level of water close to the base of the bulb.

When the shoots are about 2 inches tall and the root system extends to the bottom of the glass, remove the jars to an intermediate area that has low light and slightly warmer temperatures. Over the next 3-4 days, gradually move your jars into a sunny window.

When the flowers appear, keep them in bright, indirect light. Temperatures of 60 degrees F to 65 degrees F will ensure longest flowering. Turn the jar a bit each day so that the flowers do not lean to one side as they reach for the sun.

Plant an Indoor Flowering Bulb Garden for Spring

There is something truly magical about spring flowering bulbs. And you know you don’t need an outdoor garden to enjoy them. You can make a garden to bring indoors.

The Idea

Pot up bulbs in fall to force into bloom indoors in late winter or early spring. Arrange the pots in a shallow container to create a spring flowering bulb garden.

P. Allen Smith Spring Bulb Indoor Garden


Step one of this project is planting the bulbs. Keep in mind that the bulbs used in this arrangement need 16 to 18 weeks of chilling time. If you pot the bulbs in early October you are likely to have blooms by January.


  • (5) white hyacinth bulbs
  • (5) pink tulip bulbs
  • (16) Tete-a-Tete daffodil bulbs
  • (4) 6-inch pots
  • Potting soil
  • Shallow decorative container (wide and deep enough to accommodate the pots)
  • Sheet moss


Fill the pots with soil leaving about 2-inches at the top.

Plant one type of bulb per container. Place the bulbs shoulder-to-shoulder and bury them 3 times deeper than the bulb is wide.

If you live in a region where winter temperatures stay above 25 degrees F, place the pots in the garden near the foundation of the house. Gardeners in colder winter climates should keep the pots in an unheated storage area like a garage or shed. Water the pots about once a month if Mother Nature does not provide moisture through rain or melting snow.

P. Allen Smith Spring Bulb Indoor Garden

After the required chilling period bring the pots of bulbs into your house. Place them in an area that receives indirect light. When the foliage emerges arrange the pots in a decorative container. Be sure to line the bottom of the container with plastic or use plastic saucers to prevent water damage on tables. Hide the tops of the pots with sheet moss. Move your garden to a sunny location. You can place the garden in any room in your house once the flowers begin to open. I find the flowers last longer if I keep them away from source of heat.

P. Allen Smith Spring Bulb Indoor Garden

Good to Know

If you don’t have any outdoor space for storing the bulbs choose varieties that don’t require chilling such as paperwhites, amaryllis and pre-chilled hyacinths.


While visiting an old homestead we discovered some flowers that grew from bulbs and have tiny, white, bell-shaped flowers with green tips. They have come back for the last two springs. Do you have any idea what they may be called? They grow just like a narcissus. I would appreciate your help.

The flower you have seen is a leucojum or summer snowflake. I love the dainty blooms of this plant. Looking at the perfect green dots painted on each white petal reminds me of how truly intricate nature is.

This plant is often confused with galanthus or snowdrops. But you can distinguish the two by the little green dot. Also the petals of leucojum are an even length while galanthus has three long petals and three short petals.

Leucojum bloom between April and May, so they need to be planted in the fall along with other spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Plant these bulbs in partial shade about 4 inches apart. Snowflakes like consistent moisture and will even tolerate soggy soils.

One of my favorite varieties of leucojum is ‘Gravetye Giant’. It has larger blooms and long sturdy stem, making it perfect for cutting to bring indoors.

10 Spring Bulb Questions

Every year I receive lots of questions regarding tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other spring flowering bulbs. Most of these questions either come in the spring when these garden beauties are in bloom, or mid-fall when gardeners are trying to get them planted.

This year I thought it would be helpful to get ahead of the game and answer 10 of the most frequently asked questions now, before the fall rush.

1. How can I prevent squirrels and rodents from eating my bulbs?

Planting bulbs in fall for spring bloom can be a bit of a chore, even if the results are well worth the effort. I’ve come up with a way to make the job a little easier and prevent four legged visitors from disturbing all my hard work.

Bulbs should be planted at a depth that is 3 times their height. For example, if a daffodil bulb is approximately 2 inches tall, dig a hole 6 inches deep. And remember that if you plan to add mulch, factor it in to your planting depth.

Rather than dig individual holes for each bulb I dig out the entire area that I want to plant. I dig it to the required depth of the largest bulb. If I have smaller bulbs I create little mounds of soil for them to sit on that will bring them up to the proper planting depth. I place my bulbs in the dug out area with the pointed end up and the flatter, usually larger end sitting at the bottom of the bed. I then add my bulb food and refill the area with soil. I use a synthetic bulb food because it is less attractive to animals than bone meal, another commonly used fertilizer.


This is the point where I add a piece of chicken wire to further prevent squirrels, raccoons and other neighborhood creatures from getting to the bulbs. I simply cut a piece of chicken wire 1 inch larger on each side than the size of bulb bed. I bend the edges to create a shallow box top shape and set the chicken wire on top of my newly planted bulbs. I then push the 1 inch edges down into the soil. To complete the planting I add a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch. Now this does 3 things. It hides the chicken wire, further insulates the bulbs and gives the beds a finished look.

In the spring when the bulb foliage begins to emerge, I’ll remove the chicken wire so that the plants can grow freely.

2. When should I plant spring flowering bulbs?

Spring flowering bulbs can be planted anytime in the fall before the ground freezes. They must be planted in the fall rather than in the spring because they require a long period of cool temperatures to spark their growth process that causes them to flower. In cold climates (zones 1 – 4) this can be done as early as late August or September, while in more temperate areas (zones 4 – 7) planting can be done any time between September and November.

For best results, plant bulbs as soon as possible after you purchase them. Your bulbs need to establish strong root systems, before the frosts of winter set in and the bulbs enter a new cycle in preparation for spring blooming.

3. Why don’t tulips come back year after year?

A frequent misconception about tulips is that they don’t come back year after year. Actually, tulips are perennial in their native environment in central Asia. In American gardens, tulips don’t come back with the same vigor because the foliage dies back too soon, particularly in the South. It’s this foliage that reinvigorates the bulbs; without the foliage dying back naturally, there’s little chance of the tulip coming back.

In northern gardens, there is a greater chance for tulips to be perennial because the spring is cooler and longer, but even in the north you need to plant a few bulbs each fall to keep the display as effective and beautiful as it can be.

You should also know that there are some varieties that are more reliably perennial than others. Both species tulips and Darwin hybrids are known to return. The darker hued Darwin hybrids do better than the pastel ones.

To encourage tulips to come back plant them in an area that gets good drainage and plant them deep, about 8 inches from the bottom of the bulb to the top of the soil. Fertilize in the fall and spring. After the blooms have faded remove the spent flowers and allow the foliage to die back naturally. This helps the bulbs store up energy for next year’s bloom.

In my zone 7 garden I grow the species tulip T. clusiana ‘Lady Jane’ and it has reappeared in the spring for several years now. But the modern hybrid tulip should be treated as an annual in southern gardens. You have to plant it each year, but the blooms are so beautiful, it is still worthwhile.

4. I live in a warm, zone 9 climate. Can I still plant spring flowering bulbs?

It is a bit more challenging to grow spring flowering bulbs in a warm climate because the winters don’t give the bulbs the chilling required to bloom, but, if you take special measures, you can still add their beauty to your garden.

First, with the exception of the daffodils and narcissus, you need to cool your bulbs in the refrigerator for about 6 weeks.

Place bulbs in a ventilated bag (best choices: paper bags, mesh bulb bags, or new open weave vegetable baggies) in a refrigerator at the usual fridge temperature of 40° F to 45° F for a minimum of six to eight weeks. Don’t worry if you bought the bulbs early in the season and need to store them for several months before planting: keep them chilling – even up to 12 to 16 weeks if necessary, until it is time to plant.

Remove any fruit (especially apples) in the refrigerator, for the ethylene gas given off by all ripening fruit will kill the flower inside bulbs.

Keep bulbs in the refrigerator until planting. Take them directly from the fridge to your planting site.

Water the garden after planting to help the establish root growth. If you live in a dry area, be sure to water the garden about once a week.

5. How should I store my bulbs until I am ready to plant them?

I often get into a situation where I can’t get my bulbs planted as soon as I would like. In such instances I keep the bulbs in a cool, dry place, such as my garage, or basement. Warmth and moisture will signal the bulbs to start growing. I check on them occasionally to be sure they aren’t getting moldy or soft and plant them as soon as I can.

6. What should I do with the foliage after the blooms have faded in the spring?

Well if you are dealing with perennial bulbs such as daffodils and want flowers next year you should treat the foliage with respect. It actually restores the bulb’s energy through photosynthesis and helps the bulb prepare for blooming next year, so don’t cut it back. It’s okay to remove the spent flower but be sure to leave the stem intact.

After a while the foliage may begin to look a little rough but keep it in place for at least 8 weeks after the flower fades or until the foliage withers and dies back.

One solution to camouflaging the fading foliage is to over plant your bulbs with cool season annuals such as pansies or even perennials, which will emerge and begin to gain height about the time the foliage is beginning to appear unsightly.

This is also an excellent time to feed your bulbs. I just use about a tablespoon or so of a well-balanced fertilizer like 20-20-20 or triple 13 and sprinkle it around the base of the plants.

7. When can I transplant daffodils?

If you have daffodils that are in need of relocating, spring is a good time to transplant them. Because the foliage is visible you will have no trouble seeing them in the ground. Just remember the name of the game here is to keep the leaves green as long as possible to recharge the bulb for next year’s flower. For the best results, wait about 8 weeks after the blooms have faded to move your daffodils. When you do move them, take care not to do damage to the bulb, and make sure that the bulb and foliage stay intact.

8. Are there any deer resistant spring flowering bulbs?

Believe it or not there are a few plants that deer tend to pass by. I’ve had the most success with daffodils, but alliums, crocus, chinodoxa, scilla, grape hyacinths and snow drops are all supposed to be deer resistant. But what I’ve found is that if deer get hungry enough, they’ll eat anything, even these varieties. About the only full proof system is a very tall fence or a dog trained to keep deer away.

9. What do recommend planting in addition to the standard tulips and daffodils?

I must confess that the bulbs I plant the most of are tulips. I guess I just love the classic bloom and wide range of colors available. However, for variety there are some other, less typical bulbs that I plant every year as well.

Allium schubertii – Large, spidery blooms comprised of purple star-shaped florets. These are great planted in drifts and make an elegant statement as a single cut flower in a vase.

Anemone blanda – I have to say that I don’t actually grow this bulb, but have always appreciated its simple daisy-like bloom. They are great for forcing to enjoy indoors. I like the ‘Blue Shades’ variety because, well, I like blue.

Arum italicum – This is really a three season plant. Good for gardens in zones 5 – 9, it produces mottled arrow shaped foliage in the winter, chartreuse ‘Jack-in-the-pulpit’ like blooms in the spring and bright red berries in summer.

Camassia leichtlinii ‘Blue Danube’ – This North American native plant produces tall spikes of blue star shaped flowers in late spring or early summer.

Eremurus -The plume shaped blooms are similar to a foxtail giving it the common name of foxtail lily. The stature of this plant makes a statement. Depending on the variety it can grow up to 7 feet tall.

Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’ – The white bell-shaped flowers of this plant are edged with a chartreuse green. I like this variety because the blooms are larger than other leucojums.

10. What bulbs are good for forcing to enjoy indoors?

The easiest spring flowering bulbs for forcing are amaryllis, paperwhites, hyacinths, muscari and large flowering crocus. Other bulbs that can be forced but may require a little more attention are tulips, miniature daffodils, lily-of-the-valley and freesias.

Arrangements with Spring Flowering Bulbs

Spring flowering bulbs are some of the easiest plants to grow.  Fall is the season when bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and hyacinths are planted and all you have to do is dig a hole, add some fertilizer, drop in the bulb and cover with soil.  The hardest part is waiting for the flowers to bloom the following spring.

After 6 months or more of waiting for the blooms of all those spring flowering bulbs that I planted the previous fall, I’m always hesitant to diminish the display by cutting the flowers to bring indoors for arrangements.  But a bouquet of fresh daffodils or tulips is such a treat, especially on a cold spring day.  I’ve come up with a system that allows for plenty of flowers in the garden and in my home.

Bulb Planting with a Plan
Every fall I pack every nook and cranny of the garden with tulip, daffodil, hyacinth, muscari and allium bulbs. And even though my back is aching from all the digging I plant more in nursery pots. I know it will be worth the effort come spring.

Lifting the Bulb Pots in Spring
I bury the nursery pots in one of the framed beds in my vegetable garden. In spring when the flowers emerge I lift the pots and use them in arrangements for the house. If I don’t get bulbs planted the previous fall I purchase potted bulbs from a garden center or even the grocery store.

Creating a Centerpiece
Next it’s just a matter of slipping the pot of flowers into a decorative container and covering the soil and lip of the plastic pot with sheet moss. Sometimes I add little pots of spring annuals such as viola, nemesia or English daisy.

Wire Basket with Muscari and Violas
This arrangement started with a wire basket. I lined it with moss first and then covered the moss with a plastic garbage bag. I filled the basket with soil and dropped in the muscari and violas.

All Natural Room Fragrance
Here a soup tureen is used as a container. The hyacinths were already flowering when I purchased them from a local garden center. I removed them from the pot and gently washed the soil from the bulbs. I filled the tureen about half way with pea gravel and tucked in the bulbs, added some water and I was done. I placed the arrangement in the guest room so overnight visitors can enjoy the fragrance.

Sole Fleur
This arrangement is simple to put together. Just drop a pot of blooming tulips in a rustic container. Colorful alternatives to the all white theme seen here are pink and orange, 3 shades of yellow, or hot pink and a green tulip (Viridiflora) such as ‘Spring Green’ or ‘Greenland’.

Bulb Planting 101

Spring flowering bulbs are some of the most rewarding plants you can grow. All it takes is a little
elbow grease on the front end and patience. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind when you head
out into the garden this fall. These tips will work for any type of spring flowering bulb you plant
– daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, you name it!

What to Do When You Bring Your Bulbs Home

If you have purchased your bulbs through a mail order source open the box of bulbs as soon as it
arrives. Inspect your order to be sure that all bulbs on the list are there and in good condition.
They should be firm and mold free.

If you cannot plant right away keep the bulbs in a cool, dry place, such as a garage, or basement.
Warmth and moisture will signal the bulbs to start growing. Check on them occasionally to be sure
they aren’t getting moldy or soft.

When to Plant

Spring flowering bulbs can be planted anytime in the fall after temperatures cool down, but before
the ground freezes. Your bulbs need to establish strong root systems before winter sets in.

Sketch of Bulbs

If you live in a warm climate where air temperatures don’t fall below freezing, bulbs, with the
exception of daffodils, will require some pre-cooling by being stored in a refrigerator before
planting. About 6 to 8 weeks will do the trick, but they can stay in the refrigerator longer if
necessary. Remove any fruit (especially apples) in the refrigerator. The ethylene gas given off
by ripening fruit will kill the flower inside the bulb.

Planting Location

Plant bulbs in an area that drains well. Most bulbs need from 4 to 6 hours of sunlight each day, some
varieties (Spanish bluebells and daffodils) are more shade tolerant than others. When planting under
trees select shade tolerant varieties and site them at the drip line rather than right under the tree.

If the bulbs are going to come back year after year, like daffodils, try to find a place where they
won’t be disturbed later in the season and where it won’t be a bother to allow the foliage to die
back naturally after they flower.


Spring flowering bulbs appreciate well-drained, humus rich soils. Add a little compost or bagged humus
to the bottom of the planting hole as well as some synthetic bulb fertilizer. I prefer a synthetic
product to the traditional bone meal because it doesn’t attract squirrels and rodents.

Planting Depth

The rule of thumb is to plant bulbs at a depth that is 3 times their height. For example, if a daffodil
bulb is approximately 2-inches tall, dig a hole 6-inches deep. Smaller bulbs such as miniature daffodils
are generally planted 3- to 5-inches deep. You will want to plant the big ones like Allium gigantium
‘Globemaster’ 6- to 8-inches deep. Once covered with soil, a 2-inch thick layer of mulch
is optional to help retain moisture and keep the bulbs cool. Just remember that if you do plan to add
mulch, factor it into your planting depth.

When planting any type of bulb, position it so that the peaked end points up. That’s where flower stems
will emerge. The flatter, usually larger end goes at the bottom of the planting hole.

Protecting from Squirrels and Rodents

To protect your bulbs from rodents burrowing underground and eating them, create a chicken wire basket
that you can place in the hole dug for the bulb. Line the bottom with the wire and bend up the sides
about 2 inches. Once the basket is in place cover the bottom with a blend of 50-50 compost and topsoil,
add a little bulb fertilizer and then drop in the bulb. Fill in the hole with the remaining soil.

If you have a problem with dogs, squirrels or other animals digging into your bulb plantings, you can
place a piece of chicken wire over the top of the entire bed space and hide it with mulch. Just remember
to remove the wire before the bulbs begin to emerge in the spring.

Early Emerging Foliage

Sometimes warm winter weather causes bulb foliage to begin emerging early. Bulbs are equipped with a
certain amount of anti-freeze that can help them get through cold so the leaves should be okay. The only
time to be concerned is once the flower has completely opened. If it looks like that may happen, my best
advice if to cut a bouquet and enjoy the blooms in the house.

After Bloom Care

If you want the bulbs to bloom again the following year, the name of the game is to keep the leaves green
as long as possible. This gives the foliage time to recharge the bulb for next year’s blooms. For the best
results, wait about eight weeks after the blooms have faded to remove the foliage. In areas where tulips
are not perennial you can remove the bulbs as soon as the flowers fade.

Bulbs that Naturalize

One of my favorite areas of the Moss Mountain Farm Garden Home is Daffodil Hill. We’ve planted over 200,000 daffodil bulbs there and in spring the hillside is awash in shades of yellow. The nice thing about daffodils is they will naturalize or reproduce so eventually all the narcissus clumps on Daffodil Hill will grow together.

There are other bulbs that will naturalize such as crocus, dwarf iris, grape hyacinths, daylilies, blazing stars, Spanish bluebells, snowdrops, leucojums, spider lilies and rain lilies. If you want to try naturalizing bulbs in your garden here are a few tips to follow.


  • Be sure to choose an area where the bulbs can remain undisturbed and the foliage remain intact for at least 8 weeks after the flowers fade. Meadow grasses grow alongside the bulbs on Daffodil Hill hiding the ratty foliage. Right about the time the grass needs mowing, the daffodil leaves are ready to cut back.
  • Pair your bulbs with a groundcover such as ajuga, violets, periwinkle, liriope or winter creeper. This will add seasonal color to the usually green space and the groundcover will camouflage the fading bulb foliage. The groundcover should be no more than half the height of the bulb to make sure the flowers are visible.
  • If you do mass plantings of a single color or two you get much more visual impact. Daffodil Hill is a combination of yellows, oranges and white.
  • If available, choose a range of varieties with early, mid and late bloom times. This will extend the flowering season.
  • Select an area that has well draining soil so bulbs won’t rot.
  • Feed the bulbs at planting time and again each fall. Soft rock phosphate and greensand will provide several years worth of phosphorous and potassium and a dressing of compost each year provides the rest of the nutrients needed.
  • Mother Nature does not plant in straight lines so try to avoid this. Use nature as your guide and position bulbs in organic drifts.