Fall is when we reach for the bulb planter because spring and summer will come again and it’s not too early to start preparing. There are many types of bulbs to choose -- a color variation and flower styles to match any preference.
Most importantly, make sure the perennial flowers will grow in our climate (hardiness zone 8a, 8b, or 9, depending where you live) and that your garden will support it – usually fall bulbs need six or more hours of sun and a soil composition that provides organic material and enough drainage. The infamous garden pests (such as deer, slugs, etc.) look forward to munching on garden bulbs so be sure to take measures to deter them if necessary.
Washington State University has published a list of bulbs that are the least favorite to deer:
- Achillea (Yarrow)
- Allium Schoenoprasum (Chives)
- Aquilegia (Columbine)
- Armeria Maritime (Sea Thrift)
- Asclepias Tuberosa (Butterfly Weed)
- Campanula Rotunifolia (Bluebells)
- Campunula Medium (Canterbury Bells)
- Cerastium Tomentosum (Snow-in-summer)
- Delphinium (Larkspur)
- Dicentra (Bleeding Heart)
- Erysimum (Wall-flower)
- Gaillardia (Blanket Flower)
- Helleborus Hellebore
- Hemerocallis (Daylily)
- Heuchera (Coral Bells)
- Lavandula Spice (English Lavender)
- Liatris Spicata (Gay Feather)
- Linum Usitatissimum (Flax)
- Lupinus (Lupine)
- Paeonia (Peony)
- Papaver (Poppy)
- Phlox Subulate (Creeping Phlox)
- Rudbeckia Hirta (Black-eyed Susan)
- Rudbeckia Hirta (Gloriosa Daisy)
- Symphoricarpos (Snowberry)
- Zantedeschia (Calla Lily)
More specific fall bulbs
Other bulb choices that are not included on the list above, but grow well in the Pacific Northwest, including tulips, daffodil, hyacinth, gladiolus, crocus, and hosta. Some of these do attract pests.
Many of these perennial flowers/fall bulbs produce long stems and flowers that make lovely bouquets. As these tall perennial flowers grow, be prepared to use wire flower supports or other measures to keep them upright.
Tulip flowers are probably the best-known perennial fall bulb. A trip to Mount Vernon, WA area in spring will convince you of the popularity of these bulbs and the show they provide. New tulip cultivars seem to always be appearing on the market. If you read Anna Pavord's book "The Tulip", it will give you a lot of historical perspective about this flower, and the financial ruin it caused many people in the 1600's. Still, they make a garden very colorful in the spring, and the variety of colors and shapes is astounding. One warning: tulips are poisonous to dogs, so you might avoid them if you have a dog (especially a puppy) who could chew them.
Alliums are a favorite. Sometimes they grow as high as 4 foot, with flowers in balls as large as a dinner plate. Tiny and dainty, alliums are a good addition to most gardens. Although sometimes called “stinking rose” (garlic), the alliums do not actually have an offensive smell if you can smell them at all. Perhaps deer can smell them as they will not generally eat them. Place tall allium bulbs at the back of a garden bed and have the bulbs produce a show for as long as 6 weeks towards the end of spring. Purples, pinks, and whites are the colors these spring flowers will add to your garden.
Amaryllis or Christmas bulbs are a bulb to consider if you like bright red colorful flowers. They will not grow well outdoors in our area (unless you are in a zone 9 area with no frost at all.) These fall bulbs grow well in pots, and some will bloom as early as late December. These plants should be dead-headed (and, indeed, the flowers last longer when cut than left on the plant) and the leaves, like all bulbs, should be left to help the plant put nutrients into the bulb. Once the leaves have gone yellow and started dying off, clean the plant up, and put it in a cold, dark place for a few months, creating a dormant time which will trigger regrowth and a new burst of the colorful flower.
Hyacinth is another early spring flower that is a favorite. The flowers are often some of the first to show in spring and the scent of some varieties is amazing. These perennial flowers are mostly slug and deer resistant. When planted in clusters they can form a mat of color. The range of colors is not limited to purple, as you can get orange, red, pink, blue, white varieties. Hyacinth is a fairly short plant and may not work well as cut flowers in vases.
Gladioli are yet another bulb to consider. Many colors are available and they are another perfect long-stemmed flower to display in a vase.
Hosta is a gorgeous plant with foliage ranging from a light green to almost dark, deep, purple, and from a few inches to gigantic in size. The flowers are pink, white, yellow and some are fragrant. Shade tolerant, they make a perfect addition to a garden that is solar challenged. They are, unfortunately, not only the favorite of many gardeners but also the favorite of slugs and deer. A single banana slug can reduce a hosta plant to stubs in one night, though maybe he had help from some unseen slimy brethren. If slugs and deer are not a big issue in your neighborhood, consider planting hostas.
Fortunately, Iris are deer resistant, and my favorite choice for a cut-flower garden. The iris flower can be dark purple, yellow, white and range in size. They are a good addition to a larger garden bed that needs some vibrant color and look very nice next to a rock wall.
Planting and growing bulbs
It is a good idea to plant fall bulbs as soon as you acquire them, before they dry out, and give them plenty of time to get growing. Fall bulbs need to be placed in the ground well before our first frost, which could be as early as October. The time factor is why you plant bulbs in the fall instead of Spring. Although many of these bulbs will still produce flowers if planted in the spring, planting the bulbs in the fall will allow them to start growing roots before frost and cold weather push them dormant and help them to really spring to life 4 to 6 months later. For the best bulb growth, order your bulbs in September and get them in the ground in mid-October at the latest.
Almost all bulbs occasionally need a light dose of fertilizer. They love water, but generally, need to be planted in well-drained soil. Most can be deadheaded, but it is best not to remove the leaves from the plant once it has finished blooming. Wait until the leaves have died completely and turned brown. This may not be attractive sight, but it allows the leaves to absorb as much sunlight for as long as possible and will strengthen the bulb for another year of growth.
Contact Us at Environmental Construction Inc. for more information on planting and growing perennial flowers and fall bulbs.