Plant Bulbs, Flowers Now for Spring Show

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In fall, the trick is choosing a few things to plant from so many, from those boxes full of bulbs and benches packed with bedding plants or the rows of perennials. At no other time of the year are there so many ingredients for making a flower garden.

There’s certainly no trick to growing most of them. Gardening gets especially easy in autumn, and if the long-range forecasts are right, you won’t even have to water much because they’re predicting a wet winter.

But, what to plant?

For ideas and inspiration, we asked several experts for individual standout plants or combinations that you can plant now for a spectacular spring show.


Tulips and Old-Time Stock

Tulips top many people’s list of traditional fall-planted flowers, even though they were bred for colder climates. But they can be grown here--even in the extremely mild coastal climate of Corona del Mar--if they are treated as annuals and given an artificial winter in the frig.

Cristin Fusano, horticulturist at Roger’s Gardens and former color specialist at nearby Sherman Gardens, has a short list of tulips that do especially well here, in the ground or in containers.

Her favorite (and she is not alone in this opinion) is the tall-and-slender white tulip ‘Maureen,’ which is absolutely elegant in a pot. She also finds reliable ‘Asta Nielsen,’ ‘Blue Jay,’ ‘Cocktail,’ ‘Elizabeth Arden,’ ‘Halcro,’ ‘Menton,’ ‘Redwood,’ ‘Renown’ and ‘West Point.’

Tulips are best used in pots or clumped here and there in the garden, because they bloom for a short time, and then must be tossed out. Buy them right away, but keep the bulbs in the refrigerator for six to eight weeks, which means you can plant them around Thanksgiving, and they will bloom about mid-February.

She plants other things in the garden early in fall, but saves places for the tulips by marking spots with ice cream sticks. On each stick she writes how many to plant, typically 7, 9 or 11. She spaces the bulbs three to four inches apart and covers them with four to five inches of soil.

In containers, she places the bulbs so they almost touch and covers them with four inches of soil, being careful to leave an additional two inches between the top of the soil and the rim of the pot. This little bit of space helps the tulips to stand up nice and straight.

Obviously, she uses large containers at least 16 inches deep.

In the garden she mixes clumps of tulips with other things. When the tulips finish blooming, she quickly digs them out and replaces them with ranunculus already in flower (the Bloomingdale strain).


One of her favorite mixtures uses apricot-pink ‘Mentone’ tulips with peach-colored ranunculus, lavender Trysomic stock in front and then Imperial Antique Shades pansies.

A recent rediscovery is the old-fashioned Imperial Giant stock. “You start with little, teeny plants,” she said, “and watch in wonder as they grow and branch to about 2 1/2-feet tall. They’re so fragrant and there are always enough to cut and bring in the house”

She has similar admiration for the old-fashioned Rocket snapdragons that grow to about the same height. “Plant lots,” she said of both.

Early Perennials

At Heard’s Country Gardens in Westminster, May Lou Heard has a few favorite perennials that must be planted in fall because they bloom very early in spring, right along with most bulbs.

Phlox divaricata is her favorite, a true perennial phlox that grows low to the ground and spreads slowly. Flowers are a lovely lavender-blue, on 10- to 12-inch tall stems, so it is just about the right height to be a bulb cover under tulips and daffodils.

It blooms from late February through April. When it’s finished, cut it back and it makes a presentable green ground cover. It grows in sun or part shade.


Another good, but virtually unknown, early perennial that works as a dainty bulb cover is Anemone sylvestris , with small white flowers only a foot off the ground, blooming from early March into late spring. Don’t confuse this with the anemone that is a bulb; this one is a slowly spreading, stoloniferous perennial. Heard likes it beside paths.

Columbines also bloom early in spring and should be planted now. Heard’s favorite is one called ‘Grandmother’s Garden’ with ruffled, lacey flowers that blend shades of pink, white and green. “It’s really old-fashioned looking,” she said.

She also likes the clear yellow Aquilegia chrysantha . Both grow about 30 inches tall, with stems long enough for cutting.

“The one plant that really says spring for me is the maiden pink Dianthus deltoides ,” said Heard. This little charmer grows low to the ground and in March it is covered with tiny pink, white or cerise flowers on delicate stems. After flowering, cut it back to within inches of the ground to keep it low and dense.

Not Just Pansies Anymore

The trend continues for combining lots of different bedding plants instead of massing just one kind. Lillian Greenup, at Sperling Nursery in Calabasas, has several ideas along this line, good in containers or in the ground.

She’s particularly fond of a new pansy called Imperial Frosty Rose, that combines white with rose-purple. Planted with Cherry Blossom Harmony stock and lavender Liberty snapdragons, it makes a cool combination.

If you want to warm it up a bit, speckle the bed with orange calendulas. She also uses the dainty Linaria maroccana as a filler between plants. Fairy Lights is a softer version of this linaria.

She can’t say enough about the new Harmony stock, a sturdy, more floriferous mid-size stock, growing to about 14 inches tall.


Another decidedly cool combination mixes ornamental purple kale with the new purple-and-white Princess viola, with an edging of Easter Bonnet alyssum. You could also add Harmony stock and Coronet snaps. The latter are about the same height as the stock, at 18 inches tall, and “they weather well in the West Valley,” she said, taking unseasonal spells of heat and cold.

Although cool colors seem to look best under the often overcast spring sky, you can plant things that are a little warmer. Along this line, she likes orange and yellow Liberty or Tahiti snaps with Sunset Orange or other orange ranunculus planted as tubers. She would also add some brightly colored nemesia and some blue violas.

She even has an idea for that shady part of the garden. Use white cyclamen with the apricot obconica primrose and mix in some ‘Silver Dragon’ liriope, then edge with baby’s tears.

Now you have a few recipes for all those fall-planted ingredients.