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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

In the Garden: Plan ahead for next season’s spring bulbs at any time

Susan Mulvihill has been growing some unusual spring-flowering bulbs, including the petite but stunning Iris reticulata Katharine Hodgkin.  (Susan Mulvihill/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Susan Mulvihill for the Spokesman-Review

This might seem like a strange time of year to write about spring bulbs. After all, they’ve just about finished blooming, you can’t shop for them until late summer or early fall, and planting time won’t be until October or November, before the ground freezes.

But there’s a very good reason to talk about them now. This spring’s bulb show has been nothing short of spectacular. We can thank our cold, damp weather for that, even if it put the brakes on planting vegetable gardens.

Right now, while you can still see the remnants of your bulbs’ foliage, it’s time to take stock of which ones you grew, gaps in your landscape that would be ideally suited for growing bulbs and the types you’d like to add to your collection.

My many clumps of tulips were breathtaking this spring. I grow them in our backyard because it’s surrounded by a tall deer fence. Deer think tulips are delicious, and I certainly don’t want to pamper them by planting tulips in the front flower beds.

In addition to growing a few varieties of Darwin tulips, including Dordogne and Pink Impression, I’ve slowly been adding some species tulips to the mix. Even though they’re often more petite, they are stunning.

Two years ago, I planted Dasystemon tulips, which have bright yellow flowers with white tips. I’m happy to report they have started multiplying and really outdid themselves this year. Last fall, I planted Tubergen’s Gem (Tulipa clusiana var. chrysantha), which features yellow inner petals and red outer petals.

I’ve also ventured into green tulips. There are many varieties that feature colorful petals with a stripe of green running through the middle. I selected Artist for its salmon-rose petals and green accents. When backlit by the sun, those blossoms are breathtaking.

Like most gardeners, I have a lot of clumps of grape hyacinths all over the place. I love their bright blue flower clusters but felt it was time to experiment with more unusual types of Muscari.

The flower spikes of Ocean Magic are deep purple at the bottom, baby blue in the middle and white at the top. I’ve also added some unusual grape hyacinths (Muscari macrocarpum) called Golden Fragrance, which have golden flower clusters topped with deep purple.

As you probably know, these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what’s available. This is a great time to make plans for your fall planting, when garden centers and online bulb suppliers have received their new stock. This is also the time of year to remember two important bulb-growing tips:

Once your bulbs have finished blooming, you will probably feel compelled to yank out the foliage. Avoid the temptation because as long as the leaves are green, they are conducting photosynthesis. This helps the bulb store energy for next year’s blooms. Once the leaves have died, you can remove them.

Remember to feed your bulbs after they’ve bloomed but while the leaves are still green. Use a fertilizer high in phosphorus (the middle number on the package). This will encourage next year’s flower production. Bonemeal is an organic soil amendment that will meet their needs. Commercial organic bulb fertilizers are also available at garden centers.

Look for a slideshow of beautiful spring bulbs in this week’s video on my YouTube channel They should inspire you to do a bit of shopping so you can enjoy more beauty in your garden next spring.

Susan Mulvihill is author of “The Vegetable Garden Pest Handbook.” She can be reached at Watch this week’s video at