Gardening Help FAQs

Here are answers to some of the most common questions we receive about garden plants. You will find concise information on general gardening techniques as well as plant selection and care. For detailed information on specific plant pests and problems refer to our Common Garden Pests and Problems page.

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Horticulture Questions and Answers

What are minor bulbs? Which are good for this area?

Minor bulbs are the neglected and underutilized, but very "showy" small and miscellaneous bulbs. Many of them are self-propagating, may be purchased in quantity without breaking the budget and are excellent long-term performers.

Uppermost in one's mind is grape hyacinth. It is a very tough customer that combines well with species tulips and daffodils. It is excellent when allowed to meander through a bulb garden. Characteristic of the grape hyacinth is its hardy foliage which appears in mid-August and only dies back down in late spring after flowering.

Anemones are low grow gems. A very important cultural practice is to soak the tubers overnight in water in order to help break their dormancy. These windflowers interplant well between the exquisite soft-yellow flowers of Tulipa batalinii 'Bright Gem' which reaches approximate 6 inches in height.

When you mention the word photogenic you have visions of the ornamental grant onion with its dramatic globular head of purple flowers. It is a sophisticated member of the onion family and may reach a height of 40 inches. The flower size and stem length will both diminish with passage of time, but this should not be a deterrent, as this differential only creates more interest between the 'old and new'. Plant the large bulbs 7 inches deep. Excellent drainage as with all bulbs is mandatory.

Winter aconite is a low growing harbinger of spring with its cheerful buttercup-like yellow flowers. These are hardy enough to push through a light snow. It has small tubers and for best results, these like the windflowers, should be soaked overnight before planting. An ideal location in the garden would be below deciduous trees, where it can complete most of its life-cycle prior to the trees leafing out.

Crocus, with their chalice shaped flowers, are inexpensive to buy, easy to grow, and perennialized with ease. Naturalize them in your lawn. However, remember to let their foliage die down before giving the grass its initial cut. This will allow the corms to store up food reserves ensuring next spring's display.

Many gardens are graced with plantings of the Surprise Lily the flowers of which push through the soil in mid-summer after the leaves have already died down to the ground. A novel and very attractive way to display the soft, rose flowers is to interplant the bulbs with Hosta. The hosta's have exquisitely scented flowers and the leaves will provide greenery for the lily flowers. In a small garden, this may be described as excellent space utilization.

We are all familiar with the tall bearded iris but one of its least known early-flowering cousins is the Japanese iris, a 5-inch gem. Its sparkling violet-blue flowers are so intense that only yellow flowers may be planted nearby without looking washed out.

As the common name glory-of-the-snow suggests, this is a very hardy bulb and its brilliant light-blue flowers are a welcome sight in cold weather. Although only 5 inches in height, they are strong growers and like most of the small bulbs, should be planted in quantity to make a major statement. Plant them in a drift beneath the yellow flowers of a Forsythia bush. This is a very easy plant to grow and has a self-propagating perennial bulb.

Nearly all of the dogs-tooth-violets are native to North America and if patriotism is uppermost in your mind, this is a good choice. These far from common, but very appealing small bulbs resemble a dogs tooth in shape and require shade and fertile soil. Lilac, pure white, and deep purple with white heart hybrids are available. Their reflexed petals add a touch of beauty and uncommonness to the flowers. These plants take time to establish so patience is necessary.

Planting depth is a confusing and frequently asked question. You should consult a bulb planting guide before beginning. It is helpful to know that many bulbous plants have contractile roots. These roots will pull the bulbs down to their required depth if they are planted too shallow.