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Earliest Spring Blooming Bulbs

Gardening should not be a competitive sport, but there is, nevertheless, a certain satisfaction in being first — and in spring, when the world (and the neighborhood) longs for bright color, having the very first spring-flowering bulbs in bloom elevates a gardener’s status from good neighbor to horticultural hero.

The garden is transformed when spring-flowering bulbs come into bloom. The days may still be nippy, but cool spring temperatures are just right for daffodils, crocus, tulips, and other spring-flowering bulbs. Here is a quick look at some of the earliest bulbs to bloom. Plant them in fall, and on a chilly day in spring, bundle up and enjoy the show. Your neighbors will thank you.

Snowdrops

— Snowdrops really don’t care about the weather. These very early blooming bulbs, with pretty white flowers dangling on delicate stems, will push right up through the snow. If it’s too cold to enjoy them for long in the garden, pick a few flowers for a little vase indoors. They’ll warm you right up.

Crocus

— A bright little pool of crocus is one of the most cheering signs of spring. ‘Vanguard’ is among the earliest to bloom; pretty ‘Blue Pearl’ snow crocus are also especially early. Giant Crocus vernus cultivars such as ‘Yellow Mammoth’, ‘Grand Maitre’, and the dapper, striped ‘Pickwick’) bloom a little later but still long before most other bulbs. Plant them by the dozens.

Iris

— Elegant miniature Iris reticulata are spring sophisticates. These showy little iris draw you out into the garden to appreciate their perfect form and rich color. Intense, deep blue ‘Harmony’ and pale blue ‘Cantab’ both have a bright yellow spot. They grow only a few inches tall; plant lots of them along the front walk, where you can’t miss them as you come and go.

Daffodils

— The first bright yellow daffodil acclaim the certain triumph of spring. Golden yellow ‘Peeping Tom’ blooms ahead of the pack; its long trumpet and slightly reflexed petals give it an upswept look. ‘February Gold’ is another fine early daffodil, with elegant, long-lasting flowers. The bold, ruffled yellow trumpets of ‘Dutch Master’ light up the landscape.

Tulips

— Most tulips come into bloom after the daffodils are already well into their show, but there are some exceptions. Some species tulips, and tulips in the Fosteriana and Kaufmanniana groups, are a little bit precocious. To secure the first tulip blooms on the block, plant ‘Juan’, ‘Orange Emperor’, or the bright pink species tulip ‘Humilis Helena’. Look for Single Early tulips like the yellow and red ‘Mickey Mouse’ or the heirloom cultivar ‘Keizerskroon’. It’s been around since 1750, and it’s still a winner.
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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • There’s nothing like going into the garden in the middle of December to pull large, luscious parsnips for your holiday dinner. Wash and gently scrub the roots, then briefly steam them to make paring easier. With larger roots, remove the woody core and use only the tender outer flesh.

    To retain the parsnip's delightful, sweet flavor, don’t boil them as the sugar in the roots dissolves in water. Many people ruin the taste of parsnips by cooking them until they’re mushy and bland. The best way to prepare parsnips is to brown the slices in butter or sauté them in a little oil, keeping the heat low to lock in the flavors and avoid scorching the sugar in the flesh. Or simply bake them. If you want a simple side dish for Christmas dinner, steam parsnip slices with fresh peas until tender and serve drenched in melted butter. It’s so delicious, it’s almost decadent!