Early Spring Bulb Favorites
by Jane Shellenberger:
So far this has been a gorgeous, gradual spring on the Front Range plains in the Rockies. Snow in February and a little in March helped, and the absence of drying Chinook winds afterwards meant that moisture stayed in the ground for a change instead of evaporating. This kind of gradual spring unfolding is unusual here. More typical are see-sawing temps from warm to freezing, freezing to hot, and back again.
Conditions have been just right for spring blooming (fall-planted) bulbs, which have been especially pretty here this spring. First come the little ones: crocuses; vigorous grape hyacinths in light and dark blues, white, and pink (pricey, but they spread); and Ipheon with its low, star-shaped blue or white flowers that last for weeks. I found a variety of chindoxia with bigger than usual blue and white flowers in Brent & Becky’s Bulb catalog a few years back. They’re early, inexpensive, long lasting, and bees love ‘em.
The many different species tulips are lovely and reliable here, and they need less water than bigger, showier, but not necessarily prettier, hybrids. Most are native to similar Steppe climates in Turkey and Iran.
If you’re looking for something grander, Darwin Hybrid tulips are your best bet since many others either don’t come back at all after a year or two, or quickly become a shadow of their former selves. But tulips, especially hybrids, like water in the spring (and bloom better when winters are moist) so if xeriscape is your aim, go easy on the hybrids. In Colorado many daffodils and early tulips get squashed in spring snows so later bloomers can be less risky. Always plant bulbs a little deeper than recommended here.