Plant small bulbs now for late-winter blooms

nbrachey@charlotteobserver.comDecember 21, 2012 

  • Q&A Q. I want to prune my Knock Out roses but wonder if this is the right time? You can do it now, especially if the plants are blocking walks or driveways. They are still blooming, however, and it is nice to enjoy them as long as possible. Roses in December are something to be proud of. Late winter – February or early March – is a good time to prune these roses. That gets them into good form just ahead of the growing season. These are vigorous plants and may require annual pruning to keep them in a size you like or which suits their location. Staff writer Nancy Brachey

This is not the moment for big projects in the garden. Yet there are times when you just have to escape the hurly-burly of shopping and decorating with some soul-restoring digging. You surely don’t have time or energy to plant a tree or replace all the shrubs, but there are probably some odd spots in the flower beds or along the front walk that are unoccupied.

Such bare bits of space are easy to fill. Small bulbs planted in batches make easy work and produce charming rewards when they bloom in late winter or early spring. These include crocuses, bluebells, grape hyacinths and snowdrops, sold in garden stores with the larger tulips, daffodils and hyacinths.

Besides filling a gap, these little plants also make nice edgings along a walk. However, they look best in batches, not strung-out in rows. Above all, they surprise when their flowers appear suddenly – almost when your back is turned. This is a treat that always makes me happy.

You won’t have to do any deep or strenuous digging with these little bits of happiness. No need for a tiller or even a shovel. Just use your trowel to sink them 3 inches deep in the ground and 2 inches or so apart in clumps of at least five or more. That will give a solid effect of nice color rather than a dotted or patchwork one. Choose your crocuses from the bunch-flowering type that blooms in February or the Dutch crocus that sends up one bloom in March.

These bulbs are quite hardy and I have never seen the earliest ones – the crocuses and snowdrops – harmed by cold in January or February. The snowdrops are famous for sending up perky blooms in January, just ahead of the Piedmont’s occasional ice or snow storm. The greater danger is to the crocuses that rabbits will dine on. So if rabbits are a problem in your landscape, be prepared to use a repellent around the blooms in late winter, or put out something better for them to chew on, such as old lettuce or broccoli stems.

Grape hyacinths and bluebells bloom later, in midspring, but offer outstanding color even in the small doses you are planning for your bare bit of space. These are easy to grow, long-lived bulbs that produce spikes of bloom. Grape hyacinths are mostly shades of blue to purple. Bluebells may be blue, pink or white. They are taller, usually 15 inches high, and require the most space. They also make the best edger for a walk, especially in front of other spring-flowering bulbs or azaleas. However, don’t overlook them if you don’t have this kind of space. A triangle with three is nice in a small space.

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