Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Signs of Spring

Ryan Chapman, former intern for Nebraska Statewide Arboretum

        Spring-blooming bulbs are some of the best flowers to usher in spring.  Though most are not native, they tend to fit well into gardens by extending the season of interest.  If naturalizing (spreading) species are selected, bulbs can be considered low maintenance perennials.
        One of the places bulbs can be planted is into warm season turf lawns which green up slowly.  This provides early color before the grass greens up.  Foliage can be mowed when the flowers have withered and the grass breaks dormancy.    
        When selecting bulbs, there are many different types to consider.  Undoubtedly tulips are the most well-known of the bulbs.  Tulips bloom in mid to late spring, with an entourage of different colored flowers that are excellent for cutting.  Tulips that are referred to as botanical tulips should be selected for their ability to naturalize unlike the majority of tulips which are often short-lived and need periodic replacing. 
Checkered Lily (Fritillaria) is an unusual bulb with nodding flowers on slender stems.  The purple, mauve, or white flowers have a distinct checkered pattern.
Crocus (Crocus) is one of the earliest blooming bulbs, often peaking up though the snow in bicolored varieties or in pinks, purples, whites and yellows.  The buds are oval in shape when closed and open with three inner and three outer segments.  Since crocus bloom for only a few weeks, mixing varieties will extend bloom times more than a month.
Daffodil (Narcissus hybrids) flowers have a trumpet-like structure fused to overlapping petals.  They come in a variety of whites, pinks, yellows and oranges, blooming in early to mid-spring.  They make excellent cut flowers but should not be placed in water with other flowers as the daffodils’ sap will kill them.  Unlike tulips, daffodils are shown to be resistant to deer, squirrels, gophers and rabbits. 
Glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa) is a good neutralizer sometimes seen growing in lawns. Flowers are star-shaped with strappy petals in colors of lavender, blue and white.
Fritillaria; squill; hyacinth.
Hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis) emerge with the appearance of a green traffic cone that emerges in blue, pink, purple, rose or white flowers in mid-spring.  They are frequently found in grocery stores in the winter because they are easy to force.  Though they don’t naturalize, the strong fragrance makes them particularly appealing, both in the garden and as cut flowers.
Hyacinth, grape (Muscaria armeniacum) blooms in April and May with blooms of tiny bell- shaped purplish or blue flowers clustered on a stalk.  They often last more than three weeks and are excellent for cutting.
Squill or Scilla (Scilla siberica) is one of the best naturalizers, blooming with blue star to bell-shaped nodding flowers in March and April.   It is also sometimes incorporated into turf grass, offering a sign of spring throughout the yard.
Snowflakes (Leucojum sp.) are a mid-spring bloomer that naturalizes readily, with white bell-shaped flowers that dangle from long sturdy stems.

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