Flowering bulb favorites

By for CAES News
By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

Paul Thomas loves bulbs that produce fragrant flowers.

“I absolutely adore hyacinths,” said the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension horticulturist. “I’ve found that a good grouping of hyacinths puts a fragrance all over the garden. I love paperwhites for the same reason. I like to have my nose in the garden.”

Hyacinths come in various colors and have a large, cylinder-shaped mass of flowers at the tops of their stems. Paperwhites have smaller, white flowers.

He also adds old timey jonquils to the fragrant list. These jonquils look like smaller versions of daffodils. Unlike their larger cousins, the plants have very thin leaves, and their flowers have a longer trumpet shape.

At an old home site in Georgia, Thomas found jonquils from cultivars that are almost 200 years old. He now has some of them in his garden.

Spanish eyes “put up an awful lot of foliage first. It comes up as this big green pincushion of fairly large leaves and then it puts up a stunning bunch of sky blue flowers,” he said. “You can’t kill them, and they’re just marvelous.”

For a flower that is “tough as nails,” Thomas likes Star of Bethlehem. These bulbs have very grass-like, variegated leaves and hundreds of star-like flowers. “If you have an area in full sun that has poor soil where other things die, put this plant there, and at least once a year, you’ll have a solid green and white carpet that explodes into millions of white flowers.”

Most bulbs do best in full sunlight, but rain lilies will grow in the shade. Their white flowers will only appear after prolonged wet periods, “when we get a rare frog-strangler” of two to three inches of rain, Thomas said.

For early color, gardeners should plant crocus and paperwhites.

“There’s a bit of misinformation that you can just take crocus bulbs and throw them on the lawn,” he said. “That may work up north but not in Georgia.” Instead, open the ground under turfgrass at a 45-degree angle with a trowel. Plant the crocus, and then push the sod back. It won’t hurt the grass, and the crocus will be dormant in time for spring green-up.

“I can plant about 100 crocus bulbs in 7 to 10 minutes using this method,” Thomas said. “Always pick a day when the sod is wet so the work will go quickly.”

Other plants he considers worthwhile are hyacinthus orientalis, which have fragrant purple flowers, and star lilies, which are related to the onion but are not edible.

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.