Q: While I was shopping for tulip bulbs, I noticed bulbs for Crowned Imperials and bought one. I never heard of this bulb before. Can you offer some tips for planting this unusual bulb? — D. K.
A: Fall is the time of year to plant spring flowering bulbs. However, due to the drought conditions we were experiencing, the dry, hardened soil made the task almost impossible. Now that we’ve received some much-needed rain, we’re able to dig in the soil again and plant spring-flowering bulbs.
The blooms of daffodils, tulips and hyacinths are welcome sights in spring, yet, there are some uncommon spring-blooming bulbs that add bursts of color to the landscape, too.
Fritillaria imperialis, commonly called Crowned Imperial, is a majestic flowering bulb that blooms in colors of orange, yellow or red. Growing to heights of up to 4 feet, the flower stalks support bell-like flowers that hang down from a tuft of green foliage. Whorls of lance-shaped leaves grow around its stem.
Plant in full sun, 6 inches deep and 9 to 12 inches apart, if planting more than one bulb. While most bulbs should be planted roots down and tip up, it is wise to plant Fritillaria bulbs sideways. These bulbs have an indented stem hole which may hold water and cause the bulb to rot.
Crowned Imperials tolerate deer and being planted near walnut trees; however, they possess an offensive skunk-like odor. This odor may actually help keep other critters from disturbing the planted bulbs. When purchasing these bulbs, they may be wrapped in paper to diminish the smell while on store shelves.
A few other out-of-the-ordinary bulbs include:
Lycoris squamigera, also known as resurrection flower or surprise lily, produces long gray-green leaves in the spring which die back during the summer. In late summer or early fall, rose-pink flowers held atop leafless stalks emerge from the ground …“Surprise!” This member of the Amaryllis family can be easily grown in well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Plant Lycoris bulbs 5 to 6 inches deep and 6 inches apart.
Camassia spp. adds blue to a bulb planting with its star-shaped flowers. Growing to a height between 2 to 3 feet, it grows best in full sun to partial shade in moist soils. This bulb can even be used at the edge of a pond or rain garden. It is tolerant to the juglone released by walnut trees and is useful as a cut flower. Although it is native to western North America, it is hardy to zone 5 and successfully grows in our area.
An iris that grows from a bulb, Iris reticulata, is a favorite spring bloomer due to its vivid purple flower color and its early spring appearance in the landscape. Growing to a height of only 6 to 8 inches, plant these bulbs in full sun and well-drained soil 3 to 4 inches deep and 3 to 4 inches apart.