The year starts out when the tiny snowdrops bloom and they seem to arrive overnight. Snowdrops and the bright yellow or purple crocus frequently appear during that first mild spell, and they do fine with some late snow. Seeing snowdrops and crocus is a sign that the long winter is almost over.
Daffodils are probably the most common bulb to plant and there is a tremendous variety of color and size to choose from. An added attraction to daffodils is that deer, that devastate many gardens, tend to leave them alone. Look for daffodils that bloom early, the middle or late in the season. Very warm areas may have problems with daffodils as some require more cold than others.
Tulips are another spring favorite that comes in many sizes and colors including the tiny, early booming ‘Emperor’ tulip. Alas, much as gardeners love tulips, they do tend to be a favorite for browsing deer, so protection is necessary.
All the bulbs above are a bonus in any perennial garden, and they can be planted as long as the ground is workable. In the south, the bulbs should be planted before Thanksgiving to give them maximum cooling, although some will tolerate planting as late as the New Year. The key is to let the ground cool down sufficiently before planting, which happens much later in southern states.
Plant spring blooming bulbs at a depth that is twice the width of the bulb, and place the slighter flatter end down in the hole. A dibbler is a handy tool to use for planting individual bulbs, but a standard trowel will work as well. For groups of bulbs together, dig a square hole and plant several bulbs, 4-6 inches apart, in the hole together before covering. Bone meal or other phosphorous nutrient can be sprinkled in the hole before placing the bulbs in the ground, but there are some reports that the scent of bone meal encourages dogs to dig the bulbs up again!
Spring flowering bulbs can also be grown in containers where the early bulbs are planted close to the surface and larger, later flowering bulbs are planted further down. Combining a group of bulbs, all with different bloom times, gives a variety of bloom for several weeks, all from one container.