With winter just around the corner it's maybe hard to believe that we aren't done with gardening just yet. Right about now, mid September, is the time to be planting spring bulbs. Although we have a short and unpredictable spring there are many spring bulbs that we can grow successfully in Calgary. I have tried many in my garden so here are my tips and tricks.
Choose a location that is sunny and soil that is moderately fertile, you can add compost if you need. Remember that trees are bare in the early spring so sites are sunnier than when you are planting now. Most bulbs do well close to the foundation of your house, near a walkway or other such heat generating surface. All bulbs need their foliage to generate energy for next years flowers so plant other perennials near bulbs to mask the foliage as it withers thru the spring and summer. After planting bulbs water and fertilize well, cover with a mulch of leaves, sometimes wire mesh is required to keep leaves from blowing away and squirrels out.
Have you ever seen daffodils growing in a place like Victoria BC? Growing wild on grassy slopes all over the city. Surprise! Daffodils do not grow like that in Calgary. But with some effort they do OK in certain sites. I have found daffodils do best near a house or heated building in a south facing location. Daffodils like to be completely dry thru the summer but consistently moist thru the fall until freeze up so you can see the challenge we have growing them here. I mulch daffodil bulbs heavily in the fall to retain moisture and protect from the very coldest of winter weather. My daffodils have grown for about a decade but seem to need replanting soon as they are losing vigor. There have been many years when daffodils close to my house were ready to bloom in April and I had to pick them all before a return to -10C or more weather was set to hit for one last winter hurrah. The flowers will not usually survive such temperatures but the plants will be OK, just think of it as nature forcing you to really enjoy your efforts with indoor flowers! The most common variety of daffodil is King Alfred or a derivation they do the best in Calgary. You can experiment with other varieties like the one pictured above, this one did all right for a few years and then expired.
Tulips are descended from a species that grows in mountainous regions of Turkey so fortunately it is one of a few things that actually likes growing in our climate! Over the past 400 or so years since tulips were brought to Europe there have been many innovations in their shapes, colours, blooming time and any other aesthetic quality there can be, these are called divisions and there are 14. Don't worry you don't need to memorize the tulip divisions but do look for bloom time usually labeled early, mid spring and late. Early for us is usually around early April, mid spring around May and late is often June, so you can have tulips for many months if you plan well! Tulips grow easily in Calgary, just plant in a moderately sunny location in good soil and you will be rewarded in the spring. Many tulips, however, do not come back in following years so don't think of them as a perennial. Although some tulips bloom again for a few years it is best to replant every year or two. There are so many kinds of tulips though who doesn't want to experiment with as many as possible!?
These Kaufmanii tulips are the earliest blooming in my garden, some years the first week of April! They also naturalize quite well, that is to say they spread and grow into a bigger patch every year.
Tulip Tarda, also known as a Species Tulip is the ancestor of all tulips, they like a hot and dry location and need zero care. Unfortunately they are only a few inches tall and are barely noticable, I would suggest planting several for any kind of impact.
Parrot tulips bloom very late in Calgary, sometimes late June, but are very interesting and rewarding to grow. Mine rebloomed in the garden for quite a few years.
This was a tulip named "Calgary" I thought it would be funny to have. There is a whole series of tulips named for Canadian cities. I wasn't really impressed with this variety, short and moderately late on bloom time although the flowers lasted for several weeks.
I think this one came in a package called "Mysterious Mix" or some such thing so I don't know the exact variety, it was quite nice though.
So many of us want a true black flower and grow the old variety "Queen of the Night" it is a very nice Darwin type tulip but a very late bloomer in Calgary.
This is either a double or peony type tulip, quite unusual and wonderful to behold!
These are among my favourite of flowers in the world, the scent is heavenly. Hyacinths are not very hardy in Calgary so must be grown close to a house, mulched well and covered with plenty of snow all winter. They will not grow well in the open. Hyacinths are very early to bloom though and pretty cold tolerant too, I've never had a problem of them coming into bloom and freezing later for example. Hyacinths come in a few colours from purple to hot pink to white and everything in between, they are also beloved by bees in the very early spring when not much else is blooming.
Grape Hyacinth, Muscari armeniacum,
Grape Hyacinth is extremely easy to grow, naturalizes easily and blooms reliably. Although fairly short the masses of blooms make up for that. These bulbs bloom around early May and last for several weeks. They are best planted in informal groups en masse, plant 100 or so throughout your yard for a good show. These bulbs multiply easily and also self seed so you will have these for many years! One of the best for our area.
Crocus are also very rewarding and easy to grow in our climate. They usually bloom anywhere from March to early April depending on the weather. They are, of course, extremely short so plant a lot! I have had these for many years so I don't even remember the variety, there are many varieties and they all seem to do quite well. You can plant crocus close to your house for the earliest blooms and the further they are planted away the later they will bloom so you can have crocus for quite a few weeks in the spring.
Crocuses come in a variety of colours, yellow, white, purple, and pink which are the true 'fall blooming' crocus.
Here the variety 'Flower Record' catches the late spring sun.
The latin name means Glory of the Snow which is often it's common name too. These tiny but extremely resilient flowers grow easily in Calgary. They are adapted to high mountainous regions and can bloom thru early spring snowfalls quite happily. Plant a lot because they are very tiny however the little blooms are like tiny blue lights in the garden. Chionodoxa naturalizes easily and self seeds so once planted rewards you for many years.
Siberian Squill, Scilla,
Another of the very tiny but very tough early bulbs. Like Chinodoxa these bulbs grow easily for us in Calgary and naturalize as well. They are available in a few colours from blue-purple to white and pinkish. Plant at least 100 to begin with and over the years you will have many blooming in the very early spring.
Alliums are related to onions and garlic and also do extremely well in Calgary! There are several varieties of Allium ranging in colour from pink, purple, white, and yellow as well as varying in height and bloom time. You can start with only a few and if left to seed like the picture above form a large clump. This variety is "Purple Sensation", I've had it for many years and never worry about where it wants to seed, after a few years the tiny chive like plants grow large enough to bloom in the familiar purple flower head. The leaves of most Alliums wither and turn yellow quite quickly in the late spring so plant with something that can take it's place, the spent flower head seed pods last indefinitely and you can leave them through the winter if you like.
This Allium is called Ivory Queen and is only a few inches tall however it has a large flower and interesting large strappy leaves, it also self seeds easily.
I've tried a few Fritillaries in Calgary, imperialis, michailovskyi and this one, meleagris which seems to be the most reliable. These bulbs seem to thrive in poor soil and need no care. This variety blooms fairly early. late April, May and also self seeds easily. The down side is that I can no longer grow this due to Red Lily Beetle, this invasive and very destructive introduced beetle has decimated my Fritillaries over the last few years. Now, there is an experimental parasitic wasp being introduced into Alberta to control this terrible beetle so hopefully in the near future we can grow this and other lilies again in our region! If we can get Red Lily Beetle under control I would highly recommend this Frittilary for Calgary.