Early season bulbs, sometimes called minor bulbs, are the very first plants to bloom in spring. This year, 2020, our earliest bulbs began blooming in the garden on March 15th! Many will push their cheerful flowers right up through standing snow. While these plants are small their power to lift the spirits in anticipation of spring are tremendous.

Each spring, when these earliest harbingers of spring emerge, I reflect on how much I appreciate their presence.

With few exceptions they are:

  • Long lived: Most can be counted on to announce the arrival of spring for decades to come
  • Increase over time: Most increase slowly over time while a few colonize enthusiastically
  • Resistant to deer/rabbit browsing: With the sole exception of hybrid crocuses this group is resistant to critter damage
  • Go dormant early: This group, after their early arrival, disappear into dormancy very quickly so that they do not interfere with perennials that emerge in April/May. Unlike later bulbs such as Daffodils and Tulips, there is no need to wait for unsightly foliage to ripen and die down.  This characteristic makes them ideal for underplanting your shrub and perennial borders to provide an entire additional season of color. Those that self-sow (most notably Siberian Squill) will carpet the ground in color before anything else in the garden is even showing signs of life.
  • Make lovely petite floral bouquets: One of the things I enjoy most about this group of plants is cutting them and bringing them indoors. Arranged in tiny bouquets, their color and fragrance are truly uplifting as the grey skies of March continue outdoors.

All of these bulbs need to be planted in autumn, so mark your calendars now with a notation to come see us this fall for a selection of these delightful early season bulbs. A small amount of time and energy spent planting in the fall will reward you with years of spring enjoyment. Read more about the three keys to success with bulbs in our article on How to Plant Bulbs.

We have Bulb classes in Fall! Check our events page or Facebook Events for classes.

Some of My Favorite Early Season Bulbs

Snowdrops

Galanthus

snowdrops galanthus buy early season bulbs in wisconsin at johnson's gardens cedarburg

Always the first to arrive, these earn their common name by arising right through the snow, bearing their dainty teardrop-like white flowers, accented with chartreuse.

Winter Aconite

Eranthus

winter aconite eranthus buy early season bulbs in wisconsin at johnson's gardens cedarburg

Emerging immediately after the Snowdrops, Winter Aconites form dense clusters of divided foliage topped with bright yellow flowers. Self-seeds to slowly colonize.

Glory-of-the-Snow

Chionodoxa

glory-of-the-snow chionodoxa buy early season bulbs in wisconsin at johnson's gardens cedarburg

Up facing blue star-shaped flowers with white star centers. Very showy. My favorite!

Striped Squill

Pushkinia

striped squill pushkinia buy early season bulbs in wisconsin at johnson's gardens cedarburg

Dainty spikes of fragrant flowers which appear white but are delicately accented with blue on the back of each flower. Interestingly, it is one of the few flowers that produces blue pollen.

Crocus

Crocus

crocus buy early season bulbs in wisconsin at johnson's gardens cedarburg

The large flowering hybrid Crocus are a familiar sign of spring. Their slightly smaller cousins (the “Tommy” and Vernus crocus) also blooms early and have the added benefit of not being attractive to squirrels & chipmunks.

Siberian Squill

Scilla siberica

siberian squill scilla siberica buy early season bulbs in wisconsin at johnson's gardens cedarburg

Spikes of tiny sky-blue hanging flowers. Self-sows abundantly to form a carpet of blue that disappears into dormancy before anything else even begins to grow.

Dwarf Iris

Iris reticulata

dwarf iris reticulata buy early season bulbs in wisconsin at johnson's gardens cedarburg

Dainty miniature blue Iris flowers.

Mini Daffodils

Narcissus

mini daffodils narcissus buy early season bulbs in wisconsin at johnson's gardens cedarburg

There are several varieties of miniature Daffodils that bloom in earliest spring.

Bulbs Make Beautiful Carpets as Mass Plantings

bulbs in wisconsin scilla carpet of blue

Pushkinia carpet with Birch stand

bulbs in wisconsin scilla carpet of blue

Scilla carpet of blue

bulbs in wisconsin scilla carpet of blue 2

Scilla carpet of blue