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Put a little thought into spring garden

Scilla (otherwise known as Siberian squill) is one of the easiest bulbs to plant and grow. Credit: Jessica Walliser

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Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, 9:00 p.m.
 

Right now, you probably aren't thinking about the spring. Like every other gardener in Western Pennsylvania, you're likely to be up to your neck in leaves and spent tomato plants and end-of-the-season weeds. But, putting a little thought into next year's garden right now can lead to a beautiful spring.

From early September until Thanksgiving, it is the perfect time to plant spring-blooming bulbs. Most of us are familiar with the ubiquitous daffodil and tulip, but I'd like to tell you about a few of my favorite, less-than-familiar spring blooming bulbs. They, too, are best planted now and are capable of providing your garden with a splash of color come spring.

Most are available at local nurseries and many mail-order bulb companies. My favorite mail-order sources are Brent and Becky's Bulbs in Gloucester, Va. (www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com) and Old House Gardens in Ann Arbor, Mich. (www.oldhousegardens.com).

Sometimes, it's the littlest garden treasures that deserves the most attention. Checkered fritillaria ( Fritillaria meleagris) have a lovely nodding, bell-shaped flower covered with a checkerboard pattern — a rare find in the flower world. This diminutive bulb blooms in shades of pink, purple, and white and deserves a spot outside your back door, where you're most likely to spy its flowers come late April. Plant the bulbs now for a tiny spring show that everyone is sure to notice.

Set your sights on March by planting a delightful little bulb called scilla (otherwise known as Siberian squill). One of the easiest bulbs to plant and grow, scilla naturalizes quite readily and returns reliably year after year. With indigo-blue flowers and a stature of a mere 6 inches, this spring beauty is also deer and rodent proof — making it a perfect garden companion.

Puschkinia — commonly called striped squill — is another small treasure. It bears tiny, white bell-shaped flowers with a clear blue stripe on each petal. This is one of my favorite bulbs to plant in a patch of groundcover or in a woodland garden. It readily naturalizes and is resistant to rodents and deer.

Unlike their close cousin the onion, beautiful ornamental alliums are grown for their good looks, not their sharp flavor. The bulbs and foliage of these varieties do smell and taste onion-y just like their edible cousins, making them deer and rodent resistant. They are striking and stay in bloom for several weeks late each spring. Flower colors include white, yellow, lavender, pink, purple and fuchsia. With flower stalks reaching anywhere from a few inches to 3 feet tall and flower clusters sized between a marble and a volleyball, there is an ornamental allium suitable to any garden size and style. Here are some of my favorites:

‘Globemaster': Hundreds of light-purple star-shaped flowers clustered into a softball-sized flower perched atop a 3-foot-tall stalk.

‘Ambassador': Deep purple, tightly formed flowers grow 4 inches across and stand 2 to 3 feet tall.

‘Allium karataviens': A golf-ball-sized flower of a beautiful pale lilac with gorgeous smooth leaves dressed with reddish margins

‘Jeannine': Foot-tall stems bear brilliant-yellow 2-inch flower clusters. Late blooming.

‘Allium neapolitanum': Bright-white, sweet-smelling flowers measuring an inch or so across are borne on foot-tall stems.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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