November Plants of the Month: spring bulbs

As we put our gardens to bed for winter, we should also be preparing for the arrival of spring by planting spring blooming bulbs. When bees awaken from winter hibernation they are literally starving and need protein rich nectar from spring flowers. Below are examples of early spring blooming bulbs that serve as pollinators.

Eranthis hyemalis, commonly called winter aconite, is one of the earliest to bloom. The bright yellow buttercup flowers emerge through the snow in late February to early March. They support bees and hoverflies. Winter aconite prefers alkaline soil and woodland habitats with consistent moist, well-drained soil high in organic matter. Growth is most vigorous in locations that receive at least five to six hours of direct sunlight. They grow to a height of 6 inches. Plant them in the fall 4 inches apart and 2 to 3 inches deep. No need to fertilize, just add organic matter. They quietly disappear like other spring ephemerals until next season. They will colonize and spread through the years.

Galanthus nivalis, commonly referred to as snowdrops, bloom in late February and early March, often emerging when snow blankets the ground. The genus name refers to the white flowers (gala is Greek for “milk,” anthos is Greek for “flower”), and nivalisis Latin for “snow-covered.” Snowdrops are tiny plants (3 to 6 inches tall) that produce one small, white, bell-shaped flower, which hangs off the end of a green, leafless stalk like a “drop” prior to opening. When the bloom opens, three outer petals arch out over three inner petals. The flower “nods its head” down to the ground. They prefer loose, well-drained soil, with plenty of humus. Plant 3 inches deep and space 3 to 4 inches apart and use bulb food when planting. They enjoy full sun and are suited to rock gardens, woodland gardens or under deciduous trees. Let the foliage die back after flowering to enable the bulb to replenish nutrients for the following years’ blooms.

There are over 80 different species of crocus available, which are bulbs that usually appear in March in Northeast Ohio. Crocuses are members of the iris family. They all have deep yellow or orange powdery pistils full of pollen, attracting bees and other pollinators with their fragrance. They produce cup-like blooms that close at night. Snow crocuses are usually the first to bloom, featuring bicolored petals like white or cream and purple with bright yellow centers. Dutch crocuses are the giants of the crocus world, even at only 2 to 4 inches tall, and feature assorted colors. 

Crocuses are technically corm like gladiolas. Plant them in fall at a depth of 4 inches and 2 to 4 inches apart and supplement with bulb food or bone meal. Plant several varieties in clusters for mass appeal and lasting bloom. They like neutral, well-drained soil and prefer full sun. Deer usually do not like crocus, but rodents like squirrels, chipmunks and mice consider crocuses a tasty snack. Granular products like “Repels All” will help deter the rodents. Like all bulbs and corms, let foliage die back to replenish the nutrients for future blooms to form.

November is a wonderful time to plant these early blooming bulbs and corms. The ground is usually moist, and the sunny days and cooler temperatures help them establish quickly. You will be rewarded with a spring show of colors and the bees will be forever grateful.

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Photo: Winter aconite. Photo submitted.