No matter what the calendar says, it never really feels like spring until there are flowers blooming. So if you're one of the many gardeners who spend the winter months yearning for spring, early-blooming bulbs are essentials. And for this you can count on three small but mighty bulbs: snowdrops, crocuses and chionodoxa.
Snowdrops bloom long before other plants even consider waking up. These cold climate bulbs have an uncanny ability to push their way up through cold or even frozen soil. Though their flowers are dainty, they are able to weather snow, freezing temperatures and bitter winds.
There are dozens of different varieties of snowdrops that display variations in the number and size of petals, the shape of the green markings as well as bloom time. In fact, these early-blooming bulbs have their own band of ardent admirers and collectors who refer to themselves as galanthophiles!
The flowers of most snowdrops resemble a parasol, with spoon-shaped petals surrounding a small, straight-sided cup with green markings. The flowers dangle from slender stems and on sunny days they lift up their petals as if ready to take off.
You may find that it takes several years to establish a nice clump of snowdrops, but once they have naturalized, they will bloom every spring for generations to come.
The best place to plant snowdrops is on a south-facing slope. This applies to crocus and chionodoxa, too. Well drained soil and a southern exposure guarantees the earliest possible flowers.
The next family of bulbs to bloom are species crocus, also known as snow crocus. Their blossoms are smaller and more delicate than the standard crocus that bloom just a little later. Popular varieties include Firefly, with lilac-colored petals surrounding neon orange centers, Yalta with purple and white flowers, and Romance, with two-tone petals that are ivory on one side and buttery yellow on the other. No matter which crocuses you plant, they will always be buzzing with bees. The flowers offer an important source of food when few other plants are in bloom.
Depending on how quickly the weather warms up, giant crocus may start blooming before the snow crocuses have finished. Their flowers are definitely larger, though “giant” is stretching it. The colors are more intense, with some the most popular varieties being dark purple Remembrance, violet Ruby Giant and pin-striped Pickwick.
Chionodoxa can be the third leg of your "goodbye winter" program. Also known as glory-of-the-snow, these little bulbs produce a cluster of stems topped with 3 to 10 star-like flowers. Chionodoxa forbesii is bluebird blue, and there are also varieties with white, pink and lavender flowers. An Assorted Mix lets you enjoy several lovely pastel colors.
Chionodoxa multiplies quickly by seed and bulb offsets. The seeds are covered with a sweet substance and ants will often carry them off and "plant" them in surprising places. Within a few years, your winter-weary eyes will be feasting on big puddles of beautiful color.
Planting these early-blooming bulbs takes no time at all. Simply stick a shovel in the ground, lift it up just enough to toss in some bulbs and then let the soil back down. It’s such an easy way to send winter on its way and enjoy an extra three weeks of spring!