Minor Bulbs to Plant for a Beautiful Spring Show
Oftentimes daffodils and tulips get all of the attention, but there are many different types of spring-blooming flower bulbs, like minor bulbs, that will add intrigue to a garden. Minor bulbs are really just smaller versions of your favorite flower bulbs. Although officially classified as minor, the spring-blooming miniatures you plant during the fall are certain to have a major impact next spring. According to Blythe Yost, CEO and co-founder of Tilly, an online landscape design company, minor bulbs are "early, spring-blooming bulbs [that] most importantly are just small in size," she says. Learn everything you need to know about the often lesser-known flower bulbs.
What Are Minor Bulbs?
The most important aspect to note about the type of plants is that they're classified based on their appearance. "Minor bulbs are small or miniature bulbs in comparison to some of our favorites like tulips, daffodils, and lilies," says Ryan McEnany, public relations and communications specialist for Bailey Nurseries. "Minor bulbs are a favorite because they don't take much care to come back every year." McEnany says you can overplant the bulbs with greens like hostas, ferns, and bleeding hearts so their leaves will start to fill in as the bulbs' leaves start to fade, "preventing an eyesore in the garden while allowing the bulbs to keep gathering that necessary solar energy."
Because of the small size of the bulb, the flowers tend to be more miniature as well, so they're best used in swaths to give greater impact, says McEnany. "Imagine creating the illusion of a river with small blue flowers through a woodland; using a minor bulb like Siberian squill or Grape hyacinth en masse creates a beautiful effect of water with the small flowers that you wouldn't be able to achieve with larger blooms." Minor bulbs can be used to brighten up an area of your turf that might be brown until late spring, says McEnany. "By the time you need to start mowing that area, the flowers will have faded, and leaves begin to retreat," he says.
What Are Some Popular Minor Bulbs?
McEnany likes to use minor bulbs to create waves of color in the garden, starting with late winter or early spring-blooming options like crocus, snowdrops, and glory-of-the-snow, he say. "These bulbs start to pop sometimes as early as when the snow is still on the ground in cooler climates. As we're most desperate for blooms after a long winter, these minor bulbs fulfill our dreams." Minor flower bulbs of note that begin to show a bit later, according to McEnany, are Siberian squill, Grape hyacinth, Snakes head lily, dogtooth violets, and miniature daffodils. "[These] keep the spring flower show building to a crescendo before the garden fully wakes up with perennials, shrubs, and trees leafing out and starting to flower," he says.
In Martha's Bedford garden there are throngs of miniature narcissi—a group that includes both wild species and hybrids—and white-and-pink-flowered dogtooth violets (Erythronium dens-canis) as well as grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum), whose blue-purple flower spikes look similar to the fruit after which they are named.
How Do You Plant Them?
The general rule of thumb is to plant your bulbs in a hole or trench that is three times its diameter, which is true for the bulb no matter its size. That means smaller bulbs will be planted much shallower than their larger counterparts. "Many packages will have specific information for that variety, but the rule of three is a strong starting point," says McEnany. "If you're planting in groups or a brushstroke of bulbs, you may find it easier to dig a trench at the proper depth than digging an individual hole for each bulb. This will give you the density you're looking for with these smaller blooms," he says. Then, when placing the bulb in its allotted area, be sure the pointy side with its growing point faces up. "If you're uneasy with which side is up, plant the bulb on its side, and the flower will find its way up," he says.
When Should You Plant Them?
"Most minor bulbs should be planted in the fall, but as the definition is really just 'small bulbs' diminutive summer bulbs could qualify," says Yost. For plants you want to pop in the spring, plant them in the fall, and for those you want blooming in the summer, plant them in the spring.