Because of their diminutive size (from 3 to 15 inches tall) and numerous colors and varieties, small flowering bulbs, also known as minor bulbs, are perfect in rock gardens or in front of borders. These perennials are easy to cultivate, and many are also early-spring bloomers -- treats that return every year at the end of a long, bleak winter.
Martha has a shady spot in her Turkey Hill garden where she likes low-lying color, so she plants several varieties of small bulbs, such as white snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), purple crocuses (Crocus tommasinianus), and blue Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica). Bulb expert Becky Heath of Brent and Becky's Bulbs in Gloucester, Virginia, gives her tips on planting these tiny wonders.
Try to purchase small bulbs when you know you'll be able to plant them soon after; otherwise, store them in a cool, dry place with good circulation until planting time. They should be planted as soon as the ground is cool, around the time of the first frost, when evening temperatures average 40 degrees. Look for a site that has well-drained soil and receives moderate sunlight (unless you're planting crocuses, which need full sun). They can be planted in deciduous woodland, because by the time the trees' leaves are in bloom, the bulbs will have become dormant.
Bulb plants, particularly members of the lily family like crocus and hyacinth, appeal to squirrels and moles. Before planting, coat them with a rodent repellent such as Deer Off. Prepare the bed by digging the soil so it's loose and workable, and mix in some organic matter, such as compost. Because the flowers are small, plant approximately 10 to 15 per square foot so they'll be noticeable. As a rule, the hole in the soil should be three times as deep as the bulb's diameter (a 1-inch-diameter crocus bulb needs a 3-inch-deep hole, for example). Becky has a method for planting lots of bulbs quickly that she calls stab, pull, and drop. Hold the handle of a small trowel like a dagger, and stab the soil. With the tool in the soil, pull it toward you, creating a hole. Drop the bulb in the hole, pointy end facing up (if you can't determine the top from the bottom, place the bulb on its side). Stab the soil again 2 inches in front of the first hole, pull (that soil will backfill the first hole), and drop. Repeat.
Learn more about Brent and Becky's Bulbs.