COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Small bulbs will bring big garden rewards

During the second week of November there is still time to dig up and divide your overcrowded daylilies, hosta and iris and now is also the time to cut back the yellow foliage of lilies and peonies. In the vegetable garden you can leave carrots, cabbage and brussels sprouts in the ground where the cold weather will add a sweetness to the flavor. Keep checking on any green tomatoes you have stored indoors and toss out any that begin to rot before the danger spreads.

If you think it is too late in the year to aerate, feed or mow the lawn you are wrong. Tackle these fall field goals now and you’ll score great yardage in the spring with less moss and weeds to worry about. Don’t mow the lawn if the ground is frozen solid or the soil so saturated with water that the mower would leave ruts in the ground.

The middle of November is still a great time to add spring-blooming bulbs and here are some that do great in our climate and are small enough to tuck into any open spot of ground. In the horticultural world these are called “minor bulbs” but they can make a major impact for just a minor amount of work. Many will bloom when planted just 1 or 2 inches below ground or when poked into the soft soil of a container garden or window box. Their quick and easy planting makes them perfect for guerrilla gardening – adding flowers to public spaces without asking permission. I like to call it “Occupy Spring” and hope the protestors who use our public parks will use their time efficiently by planting bulbs and pulling a few weeds between protests.

Occupy Spring with the minor bulbs – small and easy to plant, but give them a few years and they’ll multiply – and they can start a movement.


Dwarf Daffodils – to add cheer to your civil disobedience.

These early-blooming garden gems are members of the cyclamineus narcissi group and demand equal time and placement in public gardens or they will surely takeover in waves of blooming chaos. Their petals are reflexing, which means they bend backward like a cyclamen flower. Tough and repeat bloomers, these dwarfs will thrive in dry rockeries and are easy to force into early bloom.

February Gold – All that glitters is not rising in price nor can you sell these golden beauties for quick cash. But February Gold daffodils are priceless because in our climate anything that blooms in February should be worth its weight in precious metals. This variety is easy to find at local nurseries and if you plant February Gold in a spot were it has excellent drainage you’ll be making a great investment with growing dividends. This little daffodil will spread politely in tidy clumps.

Tête-à-Tête – Everything French is oh-so-chic right now so plant this fashionable dwarf daffodil and you’ll soon understand the name which means head-to-head. It looks like golden yellow blooms are talking to one another as the flowers nod in the slightest breeze. This is a great bulb to plant under the purple PJM rhododendron because they flower at the same time, early in the spring.


Muscari or grape hyacinths – Not the high priced, strongly-fragrant hyacinths but the more common, hard-working hyacinth sold for pennies and enjoyed for generations. Most common in the deep blue color and often used to create rivers of color in show gardens, you can also plant grape hyacinths under the shade of deciduous trees or mix them with windflowers and other minor bulbs under the skirts of rhododendrons and azaleas.

Mount Hood Muscari – A great naturalizer or spreader, this two-toned gem is deep blue but then topped with a snow-white cap of tiny florets. Grow this one in a container on the porch and add bright yellow winter pansies for a blooming reminder of sunshine, blue skies and mountain tops.


Grecian Wind-flowers – Anemone blanda: Daisy-like blooms that stay close to the ground make this a lovely groundcover for any spring garden but don’t be surprised when you see the ugly corm that grows such a pretty flowers. Small, wizened and dark, the little pellets show little promise when planted into the cold November ground. But their small size makes them easy to sneak into forgotten corners and empty pots or to tuck under the branches of forsythia and other spring-blooming shrubs. Anemones come in shades of pink, lavender, blue and white.

White Splendour Anemone – The French spelling of the splendor of this bulb lights up the garden with petals so bright they glow in the moonlight or, more important, in the darkest days of late winter. Adding white to any planting scheme brightens the colors so use this bulbs with blue hyacinths or bright yellow daffodils.


Snowdrop  Galan-thus – How can one live in the rainy Northwest and survive winter without Snowdrops? Deer-proof, mice-proof and drought-proof you can add these small bulbs to the dry soil under maples and they will spread through the years into a carpet of milky white beauty. Their little heads nod downward with a meekness that will warm the soul and light up the soil. Some years the snowdrops will flower as early as January and their spring green shoots emerge from the ground right after Christmas. Snowdrops reward the gardener with the promise of spring renewal.

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Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site,

Copyright for thiscolumn owned by Marianne Binetti.



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