University of Illinois Extension


Barbara Larson
Unit Educator, Horticulture
Boone and Winnebago counties

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Spring Bulbs

Autumn is time for football, apple picking, and planting spring flowering bulbs. Nothing gladdens the heart more than flowers in March and April after a long winter. Most bulbs are easy to grow in moderately to well drained soils. Numerous cultivars of tulips, daffodils, and crocus exist, but there are many other lovely spring blooming bulbs. The following suggestions are listed in approximate bloom time from earliest to latest.

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are the earliest flowers to appear, often through the snow in early March. The small nodding white flowers have green notches on the inner petals. The 4-6 inch tall plants should be planted in clumps (3 inches deep, 3 inches apart) at the edge of beds. Snowdrops readily increase in number so are ideal for naturalizing in large drifts. Unlike other spring flowering bulbs that are divided after the foliage dies, snowdrops should be divided and replanted immediately after bloom.

Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) blooms shortly after snowdrops. One-inch wide bright yellow flowers are borne on 4 – 6 inch tall plants. They grow best in full to partial sun. Related to buttercups, Winter Aconite develops from a pea-sized tuber instead of a bulb. The tubers should be soaked overnight in water prior to planting, then placed 3 inches deep and 4-6 inches apart. This plant will expand into nice sized clumps. Winter Aconite does not like to be disturbed. If division is necessary, the tubers should be dug shortly after blooming and separated into clumps instead of individual tubers. It may take more than a year for the plants to reestablish. Winter Aconite works well combined with crocus or in masses at the front of borders.

Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa) sends up clusters of starlike flowers. Most varieties have light to dark blue flowers with white centers but pink and all white cultivars are available. Each stem only produces two strap like dark green leaves so the flowers are very showy. The plant is 4 – 6 inches tall. Larger bulbs will produce more than one flower spike. Glory of the Snow multiplies slowly by self seeding. Commonly planted in borders, these plants may also be used in containers.

Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica) features deep blue, 1/2 inch, bell like flowers in loose clusters of 3 to 5 flowers. These upright 6 inch tall plants prefer fertile well drained soil in full to partical sun. Siberian Squill spreads slowly and does not like to be divided. The foliage dies down quickly after bloom so Siberian Squill is a good choice for naturalizing.

Striped Squill or Lebanon Squill (Puschkinia scilloides) has pale blue flowers with a darker blue stripe. The star shaped flowers are borne in clusters on 6 inch tall plants. Striped Squill multiples rapidly but should only be divided when flowering decreases. This plant is a little more difficult to find but the lovely light blue flowers make the search worthwhile.

Dwarf or Reticulated Iris (Iris reticulata) produces small iris type flowers in purple or blue with yellow throats. These irises grow from bulbs instead of rhisomes like German Iris. The Reticulated Iris grows only five inches tall. Like most bulbs these plants prefer moist well drained soil.

Checkered Lily or Guinea-Hen Flower (Fritillara meleagris) blooms the same time as early tulips. Checkered Lily’s drooping flowers are either spotted purple, bronze, and white, or solid white. The 1 1/2 inch long flower is carried singly on the stem similar to tulips. This 9 – 15 inch tall plant prefers partial shade and soil high in organic matter.

Adding flowering bulbs to the yard can brighten early spring. By looking beyond the typical bulbs, the landscape will bloom with greater variety and a subtle beauty.

August - September 2002:

"Pretty" Purple Plants Can Be Pesky
Rust Diseases on Home Lawns | Spring Bulbs
Late Summer ‘Do’s and ’Don’t’s | Fall Lawn Care


Past Issues

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