The fourth week of October is not too late to buy bargain bulbs to plant this fall for spring blooms. If you see bins of bulbs on deep discounts at garden centers, pick out the largest bulbs with no rot or soft spots.
You can plant bulbs in Western Washington as late as early December and still enjoy spring flowers. Procrastinators who plant bulbs late will have less roots and weaker plants.
Western Washington’s climate is perfect for some of the smaller or minor bulbs, so think beyond tulips and daffodils because these bulbs are easier to plant, needing shallow holes just a few inches deep.
A general rule of green thumb is to plant bulbs three times deeper than their width. This means a giant bulb such as an allium or flowering onion will do best if planted one foot or more. Smaller bulbs such as crocus need just three inches of soil on top of their flat little heads.
Lazy gardeners will love grape hyacinths (Muscari)
If you want bulbs that will flower in just about any soil, sun or shade and spread into larger clumps each year, then toss some grape hyacinth bulbs into the ground now and in a few years you will have a carpet of blooming blue.
This little bulb is the perfect bed mate for forsythia as they both flower early and can tolerate dry summer soil.
Muscari also makes a great marriage with daffodils, but both will fade and age into ugly by midspring, so plan for the yellow foliage decline by positioning hosta, daylilies or a leafy shrub in front of your bulb display.
Warning: Neat and tidy gardeners or those with very small yards might find the vigorous growth of grape hyacinths annoying. The small blue blooms are not as invasive as blue bells or scilla, but Muscari can be a bit of a bed-hopping tramp.
All gardeners must now plant snowdrop bulbs (Galanthus)
Forget the politics of health care, ignore the debate on car tabs but follow a new law, which states that if you live in Western Washington and are lucky enough to have a patch of ground or empty pot of soil, you must to plant snowdrop bulbs, crocus or hellebores.
These winter-flowering bulbs will banish the blues and make the gray days of February bearable with grace notes of beauty.
Disclaimer here: Our state has not yet passed a law demanding that all citizens must plant winter bloomers. But it would be a great idea. Pay a fine, get a tax deduction or go directly to jail if you fail to add winter color to the landscape.
Snowdrops, crocus and the early blooming hellebores can calm the crazy, warm the cold-hearted and force a smile from the grouchiest winter Grinch. Plant winter-blooming bulbs now. Not just for you — do it for all the cranky people who spend winter in Washington state.
Fritillaria bulbs will foil the deer
A great way to say “not tonight deer” is by adding bulbs of fritillaria to the landscape. This diverse genus of bulbs has a musky odor that can repel deer. (Fritillaria won’t keep deer from your yard, and they might get nibbled, but deer do not devour them as they would a tulip.)
The showiest fritillaria bulb is the Imperial Fritillaria, standing three feet tall with downward facing orange blossoms topped with tufts of leafy bracts on purple stems.
If this plant sound unusual looking, that’s because it is. This is a flowering bulb Dr Suess would plant, or that you would expect to find on a newly discovered foreign planet.
You can order Fritillaria bulbs online or look for them at garden centers, but unlike many smaller bulbs this garden treasure needs rich, well-drained soil and does better in the ground than in pots.
Checkered lilies (Fritillaria meleagris) will bring on the “oohs”
This is a shorter, more humble member of the freaky-looking Fritillaria family with nodding, bell-shaped blooms that will draw “oohs” and pause only upon close inspection.
The petals are covered with purple and white square blocks of color. They really do resemble tiny checkerboards decorating the delicate petals.
The checkered lilies might return year after year in a rock garden or rebloom for gardeners with deep, green thumbs.
But most of us will enjoy the checkered lily blooms for just one spring, so be sure to plant them where it will be easy to examine and wonder at the checkered pattern up close.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her through her website at binettigarden.com or write to her at P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw WA 98022.