Growing Minor Bulbs

In my previous posting, I described a number of so-called “minor bulbs” that can have a major impact in the late winter garden. This time, I’ll focus on how to grow them.


You have to plan ahead to enjoy these little beauties. They all need to be planted in the fall, early enough so that they put out some root growth before the ground freezes. Most aren’t easy to find at local stores, and must be ordered from a catalog or online. I prefer to make my decisions on next year’s order while this year’s plants are in bloom.

Unlike the giant hybrids, these bulbs should increase year after year. Since they will be left undisturbed during that time, preparing the soil before planting is especially critical.

Pick a spot that receives full sun or very light shade. Too much shade will cause your planting to decline over time. All bulbs require excellent drainage, especially while they are dormant, so avoid that wet corner of your yard. Spread several inches of compost over the soil surface and work it in deeply, where the bulb’s roots will be growing. This is also the time to add a fertilizer, such as bone meal, that is high in phosphates.


To create a more natural appearance, scatter the bulbs randomly over the ground before burying them. The rule of thumb is to plant all bulbs about three times their height deep. Then, my memory being less dependable lately, I like to take a reference photo before covering everything up.

It’s a good idea to cover the area with a three to four inches of mulch. This will protect them from being unearthed by frost heave, and keep them dormant during a mid-winter thaw.

Miniature Iris
Miniature Iris

Feed the plants when growth first appears, and again during bloom. You can use an all-purpose fertilizer, or one designed especially for bulbs.

All these bulbs go dormant after blooming. It’s important to leave their foliage to dry naturally; these leaves are needed to feed the plant.

Because their growing period occurs when the ground is still moist from melting snow, bulbs are well-suited for the drier zones of a xeriscape. Try them as an ephemeral groundcover under dormant plants. They look terrific in a rock garden, or naturalized in a lawn. By the time you are ready to mow, the bloom period will be over, and the leaves will have dried and fallen off.

They may be called “minor bulbs,” but they are major beauties in my book.

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