Although the optimum time for planting spring bulbs in our area is September or October, if you missed this window and still have bulbs, plant them now or as soon as possible. These bulbs won't live forever out of the ground, and planting them now is better than risking losing them completely.
The most common question people ask about garden design is: What to plant? The goal is to have something blooming all season, but there is more to planning a blooming garden than just spring, summer and fall. For the spring garden, certain flowers will bloom as early as April while others don't start showing color until late May. For this reason, blooming times are broken down into early spring, mid-spring and late spring . By planning ahead, your chances are better for continuous blooms.
Mid-March to late April
One of the first bloomers is Helleborus. The most common variety is Lenten Rose but there are several new cultivars that can wake up an early spring garden. Helleborus are most often thought of as shade plants, but they do like a bit of sun, so don't limit them to under trees. They like rich soil heavy with organic matter and compost.
Wood anemone is a woodland flower that blooms early and has star-shaped flowers. It is spread by underground runners and blooms white to pink. It is a member of the buttercup family and makes a good groundcover in moist, shady areas.
Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), is a yellow bloomer with buttercup-like flowers. They are low growing, barely two to three inches tall, and are great for rock gardens and enjoy sun to partial shade.
Mid-April to late May
Fritillaria comes in many varieties and colors from bright orange to yellow, white and lavender. While they are perennials, they are short-lived and should be planted each year to ensure continual blooms each year. Varieties also range in size from tall to medium size and they prefer part sun to full sun. I love these flowers because they are so unusual. They have a tuft of green on top of a cluster of bell-shaped petals that hang downward. Plant them in groups for the best effect.
Don't forget flowering trees. This is the time of the season, late April through May, where the apple, redbud and crabapple trees will be bursting with blooms. Flowering trees not only give structure to the garden, but they provide the perfect canopy for some of those shade-loving early spring blooms.
One of my favorite spring flowers is Amsonia, a blue, star-shaped blossom that can grow to as tall as three feet. If you love the plant but are looking for something smaller, there is a dwarf variety called 'Short stack' that grows only one foot high. Amsonia likes full sun to light shade.
Mid-May through June
Now we're getting into the warmer days with lots of sunlight and less rain. This is when the larger, hybrid tulips start to show. These tulips are often short-lived and unpredictable and for all their size and beauty, if they do come back the following season they aren't as uniform in size and height as they may have been the first season. For longer lasting perennial tulips, look for those labeled as species varieties.
For hot colors, I like Oriental poppy. The flowers are bright orange and have a crepe paper type texture. I love these plants, but they can take a beating if there's a hearty spring rain that pounds their delicate petals. The flowers are short-lived and need daily deadheading, but I enjoy a daily walk-through the garden, and it doesn't take a lot of time to pluck off the spent flowers.
These are just a few examples of what to plant in spring. The rest of the season also is broken into sections, and in the coming weeks we will take a look at what plants are available throughout the season to ensure continuous blooms.