Selecting Spring Bulbs

Although fall bulb planting time may seem months away, it will be here sooner than you think. And to get those beautiful spring blooms, you have to plant bulbs in the fall. Here are a few tips on selecting bulbs for your garden.

When thinking about which bulb varieties to choose, the first step is to consider your existing color palette. Here are a few questions to ask. What color is your house? What other plants will be flowering in the garden at the same time as the spring bulbs? What foliage colors will be around the bulbs? By thinking about what colors will surround the spring bulbs, you can select a complementary palette.

Then decide what type of impact you want to make. Are you looking for a bold splash of color, or a drift of soothing hues? Next, consider possible colors combinations of bulbs. I like to plant the bulbs in various shades of the same color family. ‘Queen of the Night’, a deep purple tulip, looks spectacular when combined with the pale purple color of ‘Lilac Perfection’ tulip. And then, for a dash of contrast, I add pale yellow violas.


You don’t want to spend two days planting 600 bulbs only to find that they are too short to rise above the boxwood hedge in front of them, or plant a drift of tall daffodils that obscure the view of smaller species tulips planted with them. Always check the estimated height of the bulbs you purchase. This will help you determine where you place them in your overall design.

Bulb Size
Generally speaking, the larger the bulb, the higher the grade, and that means the larger the flower. However, bigger is not always better. It all depends on the bulb type. I purchase large size tulip bulbs because in my garden, tulips don’t always come back the next year. I’m interested in getting the best performance out of them, so I go for bigger bulbs and bigger flowers. With daffodils, I usually plant smaller bulbs because they tend to multiply and increase over time. On the flip side, larger bulbs are usually better for flowers that you will be forcing into bloom, such as amaryllis, paperwhites, and hyacinths.

I like to plant large drifts of twelve to fifteen bulbs of the same variety. The effect is like painting the garden with a large brush of color. With this in mind, I decide where I want to establish a particular design and then figure out how many drifts of each variety I need. This helps me tally the number of bulbs to buy. Sometimes I tack on an extra five or ten bulbs to allow for squirrels digging up a few, Mother Nature’s hands in my plan, or a change in the design.

Early, Mid and Late Season
Bulb varieties can also be grouped according to their bloom times, flowering in either early, middle or late spring. For instance, narcissus ‘February Gold’ blooms in late winter, narcissus ‘Minnow’ blooms mid-spring and narcissus ‘Stainless’ blooms at the end of spring. By planting all three varieties I can have continuous wave of flowers throughout the season. Check packaging and catalog descriptions for the bloom time of bulbs.

When you plan for color, height, and bloom time you can come up with some pretty dazzling displays. Sometimes I buy several varieties of one type of bulb, say all tulips or narcissus. For other areas of my garden, I like to mix bulb types to create the quintessential spring bulb garden. The combination of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocus erupts into a riot of spring color and bloom.

Whatever type of look you choose for your garden, be sure and plant some bulbs this fall. Just about the time you have forgotten where and when you planted them, your flowerbeds will burst forth with a dazzling spring display.