Thinking Ahead

Stock up on bulbs now for an early start on spring
Fritillaria Meleagris

Spring Fling | Fritillaria meleagris, known as the snake’s head fritillaria or checkered lily, not only brightens up shady corners in late April, it’s deer- and rodent-resistant.

Photo courtesy of the Netherlands
Flower Bulb Information Center

If September is the most beautiful time in the Hamptons, late February and March leave much to be desired. Now is the time to do something about those end-of-winter doldrums. All sorts of bulbs can be buried in the ground up until Thanksgiving to surprise us months later as they pop through the snow, mud and muck during the dreary season.

Spring-blooming bulbs are easy to plant and abundant at most local garden centers. Just dig a hole, work in some Bulb-tone fertilizer and drop in the bulb. If you’re a bulb fanatic who plants them by the thousands, the job can be time-consuming, but if you’re just planting the front walk or a little spot outside the window, it’s an easy afternoon’s work. Scatter bulbs in random groupings for a more naturalistic effect; similar color groupings often work best, but dramatic combinations of oranges and purples or deep pink and blue can be satisfying as well. (Don’t forget that pansies, which can be planted in the fall, will reappear in the spring to double as a colorful underplanting for your flowering bulbs.)

Smaller bulbs tend to be cheaper and easier to plant, and their post-bloom foliage doesn’t look as messy as larger plants like tulips. Snowdrops, which have little white nodding flowers, open the season in early February, followed quickly by crocus and Iris reticulata, a miniature form of the more common iris. Then fritillarias of all sorts come into bloom one after another, along with daffodils and grape hyacinths. Once happily in the ground, most of these bulbs will reward you every spring with their delicate blooms. And unlike tulips, they’re not as popular with those pesky deer.