This text and pictures are extracted from the Cornell Extension Bulletin, titled 'The Flower Garden' by David Lumsden and Lua A. Minns. It was originally printed in August 1923 and reprinted in May 1933. It is mostly still valid, although it is written for the East Coast climate and some of the species like snowdrop and fritillarias are probably difficult to grow in Phoenix.

In this country, of late years, an increased interest has been taken in the culture of early spring flowers and bedding plants, especially such bulbous plants as tulips, narcissi, hyacinths, and crocuses, which have become extremely popular. This popularity is certainly justifiable, for the flowering bulbs - the harbingers of the spring - serve as reminders the dark, dull days of winter are over and that spring is again at hand. Blossoms of some of these charming plants are often visible before the last snows of winter have disappeared.

As persons become better acquainted with the culture of these plants and understand their requirements and the ease with which most of them may be grown in the home garden and grounds, the early spring flowering bulbs will further increase in public favor, for they are inexpensive and easily obtainable. Bulbous plants are also particularly well adapted for school-garden work, lending themselves admirably to plantings around the schoolhouse, to culture in window boxes or flowerpots, and to interior decoration, as well as being of special value in the early spring for nature study.


In selecting bulbs for the garden or the border, it is better to limit the choice to one or two kinds rather than to choose a few bulbs of each of several different kinds. It is a common error with persons who become interested in bulbous plants, to attempt to grow a few bulbs of each of many kinds. This desire should be tempered with discretion, for it is not in the display of a number of different kinds of plants that the best taste in gardening is found, but rather in the choice of a few kinds and in the arrangement and massing of these for effect. Thus one hundred tulips or narcissi, flowering simultaneously, would create a far better show in the garden than that afforded by several kinds of bulbs having only a few each in flower, although the approximate cost would be the same.

Many kinds of bulbs will multiply in a garden under proper conditions; and if even a modest amount is invested in these at first, an increasing display of flowers will be acquired as time goes on.

It is strongly advised that a beginner start with the more easily grown and most effective bulbs, such as tulips, daffodils (narcissi), and crocuses, afterwards adding those kinds that are perhaps more exacting in their requirements.

Almost all the early spring flowering bulbs are imported annually from Holland and France, a small proportion only being produced in this country. The bulbs usually arrive from August to October, when they may be obtained from seedsmen or from the florists' stores. Many of the seedsmen issue attractive catalogs of bulbs.

Solid, well-ripened bulbs should be chosen whenever possible. Persons sometimes think that the largest bulbs will produce the largest flowers, but in many instances this is far from being the case. Small, heavy bulbs of each type are far better than large, light ones.

Preparation of the soil

In order to obtain good results with bulbs, the soil in the beds or the borders should be well prepared in advance of the time of planting. A heavy soil should be dug to a depth of two feet, care being exercised, however, that the subsoil is not brought up to the surface but that it is well broken up. A liberal dressing of sand should be incorporated with a heavy soil, as this answers the dual purpose of keeping the soil open and of increasing the warmth in the soil. The upper layer, from twelve to eighteen inches from the surface, may be further improved by the addition of a liberal dressing of decomposed stable manure.

If the soil is good garden loam, and if it has been occupied all summer with other bedding plants, then a liberal dressing of stable manure, preferably cow manure, should be spaded in to a depth of twelve inches. Care should be taken that when the bulbs are placed in the bed they do not come in contact with the manure. Fresh manure should not be used in the beds just before planting the bulbs, because the heat generated by its decomposition is injurious to the tender roots while they are being formed.

Planting and care of the bulbs

The ground should not be prepared nor the bulbs planted immediately after a heavy rain or while the soil is soggy. If the soil is worked in this condition, it becomes pasty, thus rendering it extremely difficult to arrange and plant the bulbs with any degree of evenness or exactness, and this is necessary if the bed is to appear uniform when the bulbs flower in the spring.


Since different kinds of bulbs vary greatly in size, it is necessary to plant them at different depths. A safe general rule to follow is to cover a bulb or a corm with about twice its own depth of soil. Thus a bulb one inch through from base to apex should be covered with two inches of soil. The distance apart between bulbs will vary according to the size and the type of the bulbs. The accompanying diagram (figure 11) gives the approximate depth and distance apart that bulbs should be planted.

About the time the ground freezes in winter, usually the latter part of November or early in December, the flower beds containing the bulbs should be covered to a depth of from three to four inches with a mulch of strawy manure or cheap hay. This mulch should remain on the ground over winter and be removed as soon as growth appears above the surface of the ground in the spring.

In formal flower beds where tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and other bulbs are planted for spring and early summer display, it will be necessary to move the bulbs after the flowering period is over.


The best time for lifting them is when the foliage has commenced to turn yellow. If it is not practical to wait until this time, the bulbs may be moved to another part of the garden or to a section in the vegetable garden and be heeled in the ground. This will assist the plants to complete their growth before the ripening period arrives. Later they may be lifted from the garden, when the foliage has died down and the bulbs have become well ripened and stored in a dry, cool room until the planting season arrives in September or October.

Color arrangement

Color is perhaps the most striking feature in flowers, taken as a whole, and especially is this true of the early spring flowering bulbs. Green predominates and tones all other colors in nature; therefore it should be used as the groundwork in all arrangements. There are two principles of color combination, contrast and harmony. In general the effect is more pleasing if bulbs are planted so that the colors harmonize rather than contrast. White of course harmonizes with any bright color.


Many of the bulbous plants are extremely interesting and beautiful when naturalized in the grass along walks and drives, on the banks of ponds and streams, on hillsides, in front of shrubbery, on an open piece of lawn, or under trees. Daffodils, jonquils, and others of the narcissus family, tulips, snowdrops, crocuses, glory of the snow (Chionodoxa) scillas, and grape hyacinths are particularly adapted for naturalizing, and, if they are left in the ground undisturbed, they will increase wherever the soil is favorable to them.

Tulips, forget-me-nots, and pansies are used in this formal bed

In naturalizing bulbs it is advisable to mass the kinds, as they thereby create a more pleasing effect; also, the bulbs should be planted in such positions that the tops will not be cut down until the leaves have commenced to turn yellow and fade, for if the leaves are removed while green, the vitality of the bulb is impaired.

When planting bulbs in this informal way, a hole should be dug with a garden trowel, and about two inches of fine rich soil dropped in the bottom and the bulb placed at the depth recommended in figure 11. The hole should then be filled with a light, fertile, garden soil. When firming the bulb, care should be taken not to press on the crown, as it is susceptible to injury. This is particularly true of the crocus of which the growing part is rather prominent.

When bulbs are naturalized in the grass or under trees, an annual dressing of decomposed manure, applied in the earl autumn, will prove highly beneficial. Bone meal, lightly scattered over the surface of the ground just as growth commences, will materially assist the plants.


Glory of the snow

Glory of the snow (Chionodoxa luciliae), an attractive, early flowering bulb, is a native of the mountains of Asia Minor, where it pushes its brilliant blue and white flowers through the snow early in the spring. This plant is easy of culture, flourishing in ordinary, good, garden soil. It may be used to good effect in planting a rockery or a flower border, or beneath deciduous trees, and it is extremely beautiful when naturalized in the grass. The flowering period is during the months of March and April.

Lily of the valley

The lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) is a sweet little plant, particularly adapted to positions that are too shady for many floweringplants. It may be used on the sides of walks, under trees, or in shady or semi-shady positions in borders. For outdoor planting, clumps of lily of the valley pips are recommended in preference to single pips, which are used entirely for forcing. Each clump contains from twenty to thirty pips, and will yield a fine display of blossoms the same season if planted outdoors about the middle of April. Early spring planting rather than fall planting is recommended. The color of the flower is white, and the flowering season is during May.



Crocuses are general favorites because of their beauty of form and color. They are especially suitable for planting close to the edges of beds and borders, where they may remain for years and do not interfere with the preparation of the beds for summer flowers. As a plant to naturalize in the grass the crocus is ideal, coming into flower as it does just about the time that the snowdrop is on the wane. There are many varieties of crocuses enumerated in the bulb catalogs of today, of which the following are recommended:

King of the Blues
Marquis of Lorne
Purpurea Grandiflora

King of the Whites
Queen of the Netherlands
Mont Blanc

Golden Yellow
Cloth of Gold

Sir Walter Scott
Cloth of Silver


Are there any plants that bloom in the springtime more charming than "masses of golden daffodils"? There is at the present time a very large assortment of narcissi, of which daffodils are one type, from which to select; and in the average garden, be it small or large, will be found some nook where they may be grown. The term narcissi includes the various types of daffodils, jonquils, and others, such as the poet's narcissus. These plants are not exacting, and, in fact, require little attention. They are adapted to formal planting in borders or gardens, and they are particularly effective when used on the outer edges of peony beds displaying their creamy orgolden blossoms long before their companions, the gorgeous peonies, come into bloom.


Narcissi are also appropriate and extremely useful for naturalizing in the grass. This is particularly true of the poet's narcissus (Narcissus poeticus), which is at its best as Wordsworth described it:

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Narcissi should be naturalized, however, only where the grass can be left undisturbed by the scythe or the mower until the latter part of June, when the tops have turned yellow, thus indicating that the bulbs have ripened.

Most of the narcissi are valuable for cut flowers, and are particularly useful for table and room decoration.

The garden narcissi are classified, according to the character of the crown, or corona, of the flower, into three divisions, namely, long crowned, medium crowned, and short crowned.

In the long-crowned group the crown is as long or longer than the winglike structures that are attached to the base of the crown, and that are called the segments of the perianth (figure 16). The trumpet daffodil (Narcissus pseudo-narcissus), with its hybrids, belongs to this group, as does also the hoop-petticoat daffodil (Narcissus bulbocodium var. conspicuum). Among the best varieties of the trumpet daffodil are Ard Righ (Irish King), Emperor, Empress, Golden Spur, Horsfieldii, Madame de Graaff, Mrs. Harry J. Veitch, Obvallaris (Tenby daffodil), Trumpet Major, Victoria, and the old-fashioned double daffodil,Von Sion.

In the medium-crowned group the crown is from one-half to three-fourths the length of the segments of the perianth (figure 16). Narcissus incomparabilis, or star narcissus, is the type of this group. Among the best varieties are Barri Conspicuus; Sir Watkin; Leedsii, Dutchess de Brabant, Mrs. Langtry, and Dutchess of Westminster.

In the short-crowned group the crown is very short, often hardly more than one-eighth of an inch long (figure 16). The poet's narcissus (Narcissus poeticus) belongs to this group. Good varieties in this group are Poeticus Ornatus, Poeticus King Edward VII, Burbidgei, and Falstaff.

1, long-crowned group; 2, medium-crowned group; 3, short-crowned group. C, crown; P, perianth

The jonquils (Narcissus jonquilla) form another class of narcissi. They belong, however, to the short-crowned group. Of these the following varieties are recommended: Campernelle, Rugulosus, and Tenuior.


Would that the little flowers were born to live,
Conscious of half the pleasure which they give.

The snowdrop is all old-time garden favorite, with small, dainty flowers almost rivaling the whiteness of the snow in purity. Snowdrops will flourish in a rockery where the soil is rich, but they are at their best when naturalized in the open woods. The common British snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis), both single and double in form, is the best known, and the giant snowdrop (Galanthus elwesi) is the largest cultivated species. The flowering period comes during March.


Tulips are among the most attractive and useful of the bulbous plants for the flower garden. The effects that they produce in all their arrays of brilliant colorings are characteristic of tulips alone. They may be grown in lines or circles in formal beds or planted in irregular clumps in the border; or naturalized on grassy slopes. Tulips may be combined with such plants as pansies, forget-me-nots, English daisies, and yellow alyssum. These plants blossom about the same period as tulips do, and make an excellent carpet, hiding the ground between the blue-green foliage of the tulips.

Apart from the decorative value in the garden, tulips are popular and useful as cut flowers, lending themselves admirably for home decoration. When arranged in vases with their own foliage, they are extremely attractive, and add an esthetic tone to any room.


Single early tulips are the best for the garden, as they flower much earlier than the other sorts, giving ample time for the preparation of the beds for summer flowers. For later effects in the border or in the grass, the giant Darwin, the Breeder, and the May-flowering, and the new Rembrandt tulips are exceedingly useful. The earlier sorts of double tulips are especially good for bedding as well as for growing in Pots. If bedded, the varieties should be planted separately, for if mixed the bulbs do not all flower at the same time. The parrot, or dragon, tulips have attracted considerable notice of late years. They are justly deserving of a place in some nook or corner in the garden, for they are attractive, not alone on account of the brilliant, striking colors and markings of the flowers, but also on account of the curiously cut and fringed edges of the petals. They flower simultaneously with the species of late tulips.

All bulbs should develop a strong root system.  This insures success, whether the bulbs are grown inside in flowerpots or outside in the garden.


The hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis) is one of the most popular of the spring flowering bulbs, being well adapted for garden decoration and indispensable when forced for the conservatory and the dwelling house. Bedding hyacinths may be bought in various colors: red, rose, pink, white, blue, violet, and yellow.

In planting beds of various shapes with hyacinths, care should be exercised to place the bulbs following the lines of the beds, in order to have uniformity when the bulbs bloom. Varieties should not be mixed in formal beds, but for spring effects in a border mixed hyacinths look well.

Hyacinths are often used in combination with such plants as tufted pansies, forget-me-nots, and English daisies. The daisies cover the surface of the ground below the hyacinths. Narcissi may be planted alternately with hyacinths, and the two, flowering at the same time, produce it fine contrast in color.

Among the best bedding hyacinths, grouped according to color, are:
Gertrude, Royal Scarlet, Norma, Gigantea
Baroness van Thuyll, La Grandesse,
Grandeur Merveille, L'Innocence
Czar Peter, King of the Blues, Grand Maitre, Queen of the Blues


The showy, bright blue flowers of the scilla, or squill, as it is sometimes called, are conspicuous very soon after the snow and ice have departed. This plant is among the most charming of the spring flowering bulbs, and is particularly valuable for rock gardens and for naturalizing. It may be used extensively as a companion for snowdrops, crocuses, narcissi, and glory of the snow, on the side of woodland walks or beneath deciduous trees. It will flourish in any ordinary garden soil. The best kinds are Scilla sibirica, both the blue and white varieties, and Scilla campanulata (Spanish hyacinths), the blue, white, and rose varieties. The Spanish hyacinth (Scilla campanulata) and its varieties, is the best for planting in the perennial border, attaining a height of from nine to twelve inches. Scillas may also be forced indoors in midwinter in pots and window boxes; and they are particularly useful for room decoration. The flowering period is during March and April.


Crown imperial

Crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis), a stately, hardy, border plant, deserves to be more extensively used than it is at present. Its sturdy stems, two to three feet high, with bright green, wavy leaves and red, yellow, and orange blossoms, which are produced in whorls of bells, lend to the plant a majestic appearance. The bulbs should be planted about nine inches deep during October, and should be placed in the border, on their sides, with a handful of sand underneath to prevent decay. The flowering period is during April and May.

Guinea-hen flower

The guinea-hen flower (Fritillaria meleagris) is native to the moist meadows in parts of England. Its white, rosy, or purple blossoms droop from stalks twelve to eighteen inches high, and the flowers are beautifully checkered with deeper colored bands. These plants may be massed in perennial beds, and they are also among the best of the small bulbs for naturalizing in the grass. They flower during May.

Grape hyacinth

Grape hyacinths (Muscari botryoides) are particularly valuable for naturalizing in the grass, for planting in the border of hardy plants, or for massing in clumps between shrubbery. Their charming blue or white, small, bell-shaped flowers are produced on stems from four to six inches high. Grape hyacinths like a rich, well-drained soil, and are perhaps seen at their best when growing on the side of a bank or in a nook in the rockery. Grape hyacinths may be grown several together in a shallow pan or a fern dish, making a very attractive and dainty table decoration.


The beauty of bulbs may be enhanced by mixing them with other plants. The following are particularly tasteful and attractive combinations:
Forget-me-nots (blue) with white or red tulips, white hyacinths, or yellow daffodils.
Yellow tufted pansies (Viola cornuta) beneath white or scarlet tulips or hyacinths.
White tufted pansies (Viola cornuta) beneath scarlet or yellow tulips or daffodils.
White arabis, or rock cress, with tulips, daffodils, or hyacinths.
Yellow alyssum with red or white tulips.
Pansies (Viola tricolor) beneath mixed tulips.
English daisies (white) as an edging for a bed of, or beneath, tulips, hyacinths, or daffodils.
Pale yellow tulips (Vitellina) with light blue, dwarf phlox (Phlox divaricata).
Rich yellow tulips (Gesneriana Lutea) with light blue, dwarf phlox (Phlox divaricata).
Poet's narcissi (white) with English daisies (pink).

Courtesy USDA

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