Bulbs Cut flowers Gardening

Cut-Flower Bulbs: Plan Now for Spring

Bouquet de fleurs printanières.

By Larry Hodgson

As you buy your fall bulbs for spring bloom (tulips, narcissus, alliums, etc.), give a thought about how you intend to use them. 

Obviously, the first thought is to just to let them grow and bloom on the spot, decorating your garden. But so many of them make extraordinary cut flowers: wouldn’t it be just extraordinary to have bouquets of beautiful flowers to bring indoors first thing in spring? The problem is that you, as a gardener, often find yourself hesitating to do so. After all, if you cut them for indoor use, there goes the color from your garden. Bummer!

Which is why you should consider planting extra bulbs specifically for cut flower use. In fact, why not plant the double so you can have a massive amount of bloom to bring indoors?

Where to Plant Cut Flower Bulbs

Garden with tulips and narcissus
It really doesn’t matter where you plant bulbs you’ll be using as cut flowers. Even if no one else can see them, you know where to find them!

Once you’ve decided that a certain number of bulbs are going to be used as cut flowers, that removes some of the restrictions about where and how to plant them. 

True enough, you’re still going to need plenty of sun (full spring sun to partial shade) and well-drained soil, but you no longer have to worry about planting short bulbs in the front of the bed, middle-height ones in the center and tall ones at the back. And you can plant cut flower bulbs in spots that are neither visible from the street nor your home’s windows. They’re not being grown for show, so conspicuousness doesn’t really matter. Indeed, some gardeners have a cut flower garden, a space specifically reserved for supply cut flowers for indoor arrangements, and it can be anywhere.

Helpful Hint: Many tulips, especially, bloom most heavily the first year, then it’s downhill from there*, so why not simply treat them as annuals? You can plant them in your vegetable garden this fall after you’ve finished most of the harvesting, gather their flowers in the spring, then pull and compost the bulbs when it comes time to plant next year’s vegetables. 

*Longer-lived tulips, ones that will come back again to bloom for decades, include Darwin hybrid tulipes, viridiflora tulipes and botanical tulips.

The Best Bulbs for Cutting

Of course, not all bulbs make great cut flowers. Crocuses (Crocus spp.) have no stem worth mentioning, for example, the flower popping directly out of the ground. Reticulated irises (Iris reticulata) are no better and there isn’t much you can do with winter aconites (Eranthis spp.) and Grecian windflowers (Anemone blanda) either. 

Snowdrops used as cut flowers in coffee mug.
Yes, you can use small bulbs, like these snowdrops, in arrangements, but only for mini ones!

You can, however, make mini-bouquets of some of the smaller bulbs: snowdrops (Galanthus spp.), squills (Scilla spp.), grape hyacinths (Muscari spp.), glory of the snow (Chionodoxa spp.), striped squill (Puschkinia scilloides), etc.

That said, most flower arrangers are going to prefer bulbs with longer stems and flowers that last a week or so after harvesting. And that group would include the following: 

  • Allium (Allium spp.)
  • Camassia (Camassia spp.)
  • Dutch iris* (Iris × hollandicum)
  • Fritillaria (Fritillaria spp.)
  • Hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis)
  • Narcissus, daffodil, jonquil (Narcissus spp.)
  • Persian buttercup* (Ranunculus asiaticus)
  • Poppy anemone or windflower* (Anemone coronaria)
  • Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum)
  • Tulip (Tulipa spp.)

*Bulbs of limited hardiness, adapted to zones 7 above.

Extend the Color

Two narcissus: Febuary Gold (yellow trumpet) and Narcissus poeticus (white petals, red crown).
Narcissus ‘February Gold’ blooms early in the spring, as the snow melts. At the opposite extreme, Narcissus poeticus is in bloom well into summer!

Most spring bulbs you can use as cut flowers have their own specific blooming season and you have to live with that, but some give you a whole range of seasons. For example, in the case of both tulips and narcissus, there are early types for the first cut flowers of spring, mid-season varieties for heart-of-spring blooms and late varieties that cover up to the beginning of summer. So, for the longest possible cut flower display, make sure you plant varieties from each category.

Alliums tend to be late spring bloomers, but some are more early summer flowers. Again, plant some of both categories for the longest possible supply of cut flowers.

Planting Bulbs

Hole for planting bulb
There’s nothing complicated about planting bulbs.

This is pretty basic, as bulbs are so adaptable, but essentially, sometime between early September and November (in the Northern Hemisphere):

  • Dig: dig a hole 3 times as deep as the bulb is high, mixing in a few handfuls of compost or a slow-release fertilizer if the planting will be a permanent one.
  • Drop: drop the bulbs into the hole, spacing them about 3 times the width of the bulb. You can add mycorrhizal fungi if you want. If the bulb is onion-shaped, plant it with the flat base facing down and the point facing up. If not, just guess. (It’s really not that important.)
  • Cover: Fill in the hole.
  • Water: Water well.
  • Done

So, now that you know what to plant and how to do it, plan ahead to enjoy the beauty of cut flower bulbs come spring!

Photos supplied by iBulb.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

2 comments on “Cut-Flower Bulbs: Plan Now for Spring

  1. Do this every year but still hesitate to plant them as they look so pretty all grouped together. I also plant lots of bulbs in containers where they bring a lot of joy on the patio in Spring

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