early spring bulbs Gardening Resources, FAQs & DIY

Favorite Spring-Blooming Small Bulbs

Every year I wait eagerly for the small bulbs to emerge in the garden. They may not be as showy as the large daffodils and tulips, or as highly scented as the hyacinths, but these reliable little bulbs burst forth in early spring with a splash of color unmatched by any of their larger brethren.

These bulbs should be planted in fall so I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite spring-blooming small bulbs.

Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow)

Chionodoxa in the early spring garden

Chionodoxa is one of the easiest of small bulbs to grow. Simply plant the bottom of the bulb about 2 inches deep and each bulb about 4 inches apart (at least that’s the “ideal” – I tend to plant them closer together for a more impactful display). It does best in fertile humus or organically rich soil in full sun, although it will happily bloom and spread when planted under deciduous shrubs where competition for moisture from the shrub’s roots will keep the bulbs dry over the summer. They are also particularly well suited for growing in containers or in rock gardens.

Over time, Chionodoxa will self sow and form a carpet of spring color. If you allow the flower heads to go to seed, you can scatter the seeds throughout your garden after the seed heads dry. The next spring, you’ll be rewarded with a growing blanket of new white, pink, and blue flowering bulbs. Of course, you can also propagate this bulb by separating the small bulbous offsets and replanting them elsewhere.

Given the beauty and ease of cultivation of Chionodoxa, it’s surprising that these bulbs can be difficult to find in local garden centers. Try buying them online to get them in quantity at a reasonable price.

Ipheion uniflorum (Spring Starflower)

Ipheion uniflorum ‘Wisley Blue’

Ipheion uniflorum is a member of the lily family and while it is a South American native, it is surprisingly hardy – it can be grown throughout most of the Northeast, being normally hardy into USDA zone 5.

This beautiful little bulb does well in rock gardens and at the front of the bed where it can be easily seen.  It likes full sun and well-drained soil (heavy clay or wet winter soil is a sure-fire way to kill it).  Plant the base of the bulb about 3 inches deep and set them approximately 2 inches apart to ensure a lush carpet of blooms.

Ipheion uniflorum reaches about 5″-7″ in height, with star-shaped flowers in shades of blue-violet, pink-blue, and white. It blooms in early to mid-spring.

As with grape hyacinth, the leaves of Ipheion uniflorum often emerge in the fall. Although the leaves may freeze over the winter and look a little tattered, the flowers won’t be harmed and you can cut back the foliage in early spring to tidy things up.

Species Tulips

tulipa bakeri lilac wonder

Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’

Many gardeners like the big, showy, hybrid tulips, but I prefer the small, brightly-colored little gems called species tulips. Years ago, I gave up on hybrid tulips – I was tired of replacing them every year or two. What I found was that the species tulips naturalize well, with most of them returning and multiplying year after year. Once established, they require very little care, aside from an occasional top dressing of bulb fertilizer. Although they don’t reach the stature of their larger relatives, species tulips can make a colorful splash in the garden when massed together. Here are some of my favorites.

tulipa pulchella Persian Pearl

Tulipa pulchella Persian Pearl

Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’ – Lilac-pink flowers with a yellow base. Grows about 7″. Blooms mid-season. Looks lovely planted with miniature daffodils.

Tulipa pulchella ‘Persian Pearl’ – Purple-red flowers with a yellow center. 4″-6″ tall. Early to mid-season.

Tulipa tarda – White petals with a yellow center. 6″-8″ tall. Early spring blooming.

Tulipa tarda

Tulipa humilis ‘Alba Coerulea Oculata’ – White petals with a deep blue base.  Absolutely stunning. About 5″ tall. Early season. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of it in my garden, although I do have several that have returned yearly since I planted them 3 years ago.

I know there are quite a few other species tulips that probably deserve mention – I just don’t have them in my garden (yet!).

Which ones would you recommend?

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