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Tulip Bulbs Planted in Fall for Spring Beauty
Tulip bulbs should be planted in the late fall in order to enjoy their blooms in the spring.

The late winter and early spring show is dominated by bulbs with flowers in clear yellows and whites, such as trilliums, winter aconites, and snowdrops. These are soon followed by the first daffodils, like Narcissus ‘February Gold’. The pretty, scented pheasant’s-eye daffodils are among the last of the season to bloom. Early irises, hyacinths, grape hyacinths, and ipheions belong to the blue brigade that cheers spring gardens. Crocuses, of course, encompass all three colors.

It is not until the tulips emerge that the color spectrum broadens. Tulips come in every color except blue, and range from the dainty (Tulipa sylvestris, great for naturalizing) to the seriously baroque. The parrot tulip ‘Rococo’ has fiery red, fringed petals with green streaks.

As spring turns to summer, alliums (ornamental onions) decorate our borders. Their distinctive flowerheads, in globes or pendent clusters, range from the cheerful golden Allium moly and tall ‘Purple Sensation’ to the giant spheres of metallic, starry flowers of Allium christophii, which are great for drying. More irises add dusky hues of blue, amber, rust, and purple.

Fewer bulbs perform in midsummer, but they include some stunners. Lilies are elegant and stately; many have strong perfumes. Gladioli add height. Eucomis, with its flowerheads of greenish or reddish, starry flowers topped by a pineapple-like tuft, makes a wonderful architectural plant for late summer. Finally, in the fall there are crocuslike colchicums and vivid pink nerines. 

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Choosing and Buying Bulbs

Most bulbs are available for purchase in their dormant state, so buy spring-flowering bulbs in late summer or fall and summer-flowering ones in spring. Don’t leave it too late; if you buy bulbs soon after they arrive at the retailer, you’ll get the pick of the healthiest and most vigorous. Choose bulbs that are big, firm, and plump; plants from dried-up bulbs will not thrive. Reject any with blemishes—indications of pest damage or disease—or signs of rot or mold, or any that are missing their papery skins or have started sprouting. Look for bulbs that are labeled “from cultivated stock” or “nursery-propagated” to avoid buying any that are collected from the wild.

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