Most spring-blooming bulbs rot in soggy soils. But some bulbs actually thrive. Here are several spring-blooming bulbs you can plant now to brighten up your boggy areas.
Gardeners with very moist or wet soil often despair, resigning themselves to being “bulbless.” I am happy to report that some bulbs actually like wet places and will not rot.
A few species of daffodils (Narcissus spp.), much beloved for their cheery spring color, do quite well in damp spots. Known since 1750, Narcissus jonquilla simplex, hardy in Zones 5 to 9, is a 10- to 12-inch, late-April-flowering, fragrant species with reed-like foliage and numerous golden-yellow flowers on each stem. Grow it in part to full shade.
Narcissus odorus flore pleno, a variable double form, is an early bloomer, 10 to 12 inches high, very fragrant and a reliable perennial in Zones 4 to 9. In cultivation since 1601, it will grow in full sun to part shade.
Fritillaria meleagris is the antithesis of its large and imposing cousin Fritillaria imperialis. This diminutive species (only 10 to 12 inches), also known as snake’s-head or Guinea-hen flower, is a native of Great Britain where bulbs usually grow and naturalize in damp meadows and pastures. It can be found with either checkered purple or pure white flowers that bloom in April to May. It prefers full sun to partial shade and rich, neutral to alkaline soil and does best when the plants are left undisturbed. The most important condition required for successful naturalization is moisture during spring and summer.
At first glance, summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum), a European native, looks like very tall snowdrops (Galanthus spp.). Indeed both belong to the same botanical family, Amaryllidaceae.
Years ago, I planted them in my own garden in a partially shaded, slightly moist spot. Their pendulous white bells, in clusters of three to five on each 12- to 18-inch stem, used to bloom from early May well into June, but now they start blooming in early April and last into May. The Leucojum aestivum cultivar ‘Gravetye Giant’ grows even taller at 20 to 24 inches.
The foliage remains green until midsummer and tends to smother anything in its way. I lost several plants before I realized this; I started interplanting the Leucojum with ‘Tojen’ toad lily (Tricyrtis ‘Tojen’). The Tricyrtis’ 3 foot height and large leaves allow them to compete and flourish with the Leucojum; other cultivars do not work as well.
This snowdrop look-alike, Leucojum aestivum, is a wonderful addition to the part-shade, moist garden. The flowers last for at least a month.3
The pale blue stars of Camassia cusickii open from the bottom up and illuminate partially shaded sites. The foliage is somewhat lax.3
Quamash (Camassia spp.) is an American native that naturalizes in Zones 3 to 8, has a very natural appearance and looks great between perennials, in borders and among ground covers.
Quamash have long, upright, swordlike foliage and produce an abundance of flowers, with up to 100 star-shaped little flowers on each clustered spike. All species thrive in full sun to partial shade. Three species are widely available. Camassia quamash (syn. C. esculenta), with deep-blue flowers that bloom in June and July, grows 14 to 16 inches tall. ‘Blue Melody’ is much shorter, growing only 8 to 10 inches tall, and has variegated foliage.
Camassia cusickii has light blue flowers that bloom in May and June and grows 24 to 32 inches tall.
Camassia leichtlinii boasts creamy white flowers that bloom in May and June and grows to an average height of 24 to 40 inches. C. l. ‘Alba’, is pure white; C.l. ‘Caerulea’ has light blue flowers; and C.l. ‘Blue Danube’ has dark blue flowers. C. l. ‘Sacajawea’ has white flowers and foliage with a cream edge. A bonus for those of you gardening in wet soil is that none of these bulbs are deer fodder. So, don’t despair; plant these this fall!
1. Photo courtesy of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs
2. Photo by Van Meuwen
3. Photo by Bobbie Schwartz
From State-by-State Gardening September/December 2013.