March is a time for spring bulbs to spike out of the soil and unfurl into bloom.
After months of cold, dark winter weather, seeing color in the garden is always a guarantee that spring is close.
The bulbs that were planted in the fall have had time to go through their chilling period and are now ready to flower.
The first to bloom of the early bulbs are the smallest of crocuses. Tiny cups of petals poke out about an inch high in lawns, deciduous woods and flower beds as soon as the temperatures in the soils warm up.
The colors of crocus include pure white, pale- to bright-yellow and soft- to bright-purple.
The earliest crocuses are often a soft shade of yellow and purple while the later, larger crocuses are colored more boldly and brightly.
The grass — like leaves — can blend into the lawns and flower beds and last about a month after the crocuses bloom.
Crocuses are long-lived bulbs if they are planted in well-drained soils with winter sunshine.
Many areas in the country have gardens full of crocuses that have naturalized and have created a mass of color in the early spring. Chionodoxa or Glory of the Snow are either blue or a pure white, tiny flower bells that arch up out of the soil 2 to 3 inches tall.
Snow Drops are a northern plant that can survive on our Eastern Shore if planted in the shade of trees rather than in the hot sunny soils.
Daffodils are the next to flower in the spring gardens.
As with the crocus, the daffodils have early, mid and late varieties to grace the garden.
The old-fashioned yellow daffodil is a short flower with a single yellow cup and a wreath of yellow petals. Later spring daffodils can display white or yellow petals and red, orange or pink cups.
Not all daffodils have only one flower to a stem; some varieties have a bouquet of flowers on each stem. Some varieties of daffodils are fragrant like “Geranium,” which has a light, sweet fragrance.
Daffodils can also naturalize in the garden if given enough time and winter sunshine. As the plants are poisonous, no animals will eat the bulbs, flowers, stems or leaves of the daffodil.
Tulips are the next bulbs to burst into bloom in the early spring. The tiny multi-stem Kaufmanniana tulips or water lily tulips are the earliest to bloom, followed by the Mendel, Triumph and Darwin Tulips. Tulips come in bright bowls of color in red, yellow, orange, white and pink, and are supported by sturdy stems and flanked by crescent-shaped leaves. Many tulip varieties are bi-colored and some are multi-colored in vivid flame hues. Some varieties of tulips have feathered petal edges that add to their attraction.
In the past, the tulips with virus displayed extraordinary colors and patterns, and many of the modern tulips have tried to re-create those colors. Tulips are bulbs of the north and will often not survive the hot soils of the Eastern Shore.
Tulips bulbs are also very tasty to a variety of small ground dwelling animals like voles, squirrels and chipmunks, which reduces the amount of tulips in the garden each year.
In the South it is important to plant tulips as annuals every fall to ensure a lovely show of color in the early spring. The Grape Hyacinths are tiny bunches of purple or white that resemble the larger, fragrant Hyacinths. Grape Hyacinths grow only 2 to 3 inches out of the soil while the fragrant Hyacinths can stretch to be 8 to 10 inches tall.
Although the spring bulbs need to be planted in the fall, it is well worth the extra time and effort to see the early signs of spring in the garden.
(Editor’s Note: Ginny Rosenkranz is a commercial horticulture specialist with the University of Maryland Extension.)