How does the song go: “When It’s Springtime in Alaska, it’s forty below”? That can be true up north, but not so much here in Southcentral Alaska. However, this spring seemed to take its time getting here, but that just means a longer period to enjoy the greening of the forest, lawns and gardens.
If you can’t wait for Spring to arrive, plant some bulbs this fall. The so-called “minor bulbs” bloom for a brief time, often right through the melting snow. Sometimes known as “ephemerals”, they don’t die after blooming, but they go dormant and their foliage disappears. Often the term “ephemerals” refers to woodland plants, but here I am talking about the common Spring-blooming bulbs available locally for planting in the fall.
These small bulbs are often overshadowed by their larger relatives, tulips and daffodils, which require a little more work to plant. The smaller bulbs are generally planted only about 3 inches (7.5 cm) deep. I use a tool known as a dibbler, such as that from Berry & Bird (Google it). Very little effort is required.
Since these little guys are the first to bloom, they are a welcome mat for early pollinators.
A wide variety of colors.
Muscari (Grape Hyacinth)
Usually found in a deep blue color, they are also available in various shades of blue, purple and white.
Scilla siberica (Siberian Squill).
Puschkinia (Striped Squill)
The white flowers of this plant look light blue because of the blue stripes on the petals.
Tulipa tarda (Tarda Tulip)
Tarda tulip is a very showy star-shaped wildflower tulip that opens to reveal a bright yellow center and white tips. This tulip naturalizes easily, meaning it will multiply and spread, returning each year. Native to central Asia. There are other types available, but I’ve had the best luck with Tarda.
You can order minor bulbs early and they will be sent at the proper time for planting in your area. That is, if the weather cooperates. But all these bulbs (and many more!) should be available locally at garden centers in the Fall.
If Winter should come before you get your bulbs planted, you can always pot them up and store them for forcing.
Photos by Patrick Ryan unless otherwise mentioned.
Musings from an Alaska gardener.
Musings from an Alaska gardener