Earliest Bloomers to Tempt You

Barbara Gilford
Frederick County Master Gardener Program

April "daisies" Grecian windflowers (Anemone blanda) bloom dependably for six or eight weeks from mid-March into May following the worst winters Frederick County can offer.

The 2-inch white flowers with a central puff of golden stamens close in cloudy or bitter weather and thus can withstand the chilly surprises of early spring. There is an electric blue variety and a mix of pastels. Plant anemones in semi-shade and soil with lots of humus.

Although technically tubers, thickenings of underground stems, Grecian windflowers are one of a group of small, early spring bloomers known affectionately as "the little bulbs." All do best in well-drained soil and summer dryness.

They're oblivious to summer shade, blooming, setting seed, ripening their foliage and disappearing in spring sunshine before the trees leaf out. Their disappearing act can lead to disaster if the space is chosen for another plant. So use a low ground cover to hold their spot or pair them with a late-arriving companion. Although a mulch is beneficial, any smothering winter leaf cover must be removed in time for their early appearance.

The little bulbs can become addictive. Just leaf through a specialty bulb catalog to see the wide selection offered. Here are the earliest bloomers to tempt you.

Giant snowflakes (Galanthus elwesii), all of 7 inches tall, are first to appear in my garden. Tucked into a southern exposure near a protective brick wall, the nodding white bells tipped emerald green often appear for Christmas.

The more common form (G. nivalis) is half as tall and some-what later to appear, forming large clumps of graceful little blooms. The double form looks rather frumpy to me.

Snowdrops in flower, as with other little bulbs, can be frozen under a foot of snow and perk up as though nothing had happened when the sun touches them again.

In some years, winter aconites (Eranthus hyemalus) the name means "flower of spring" almost beats the snowdrops into bloom. This glowing yellow flower resembles a larger version of its relative, the buttercup, in a collar of bright green leaves. A drift under an early-blooming witch hazel is a heartwarming sight. They seed themselves readily.

Crocuses are a well known harbinger of spring; species crocuses are the earliest, some blooming in January. Among the first are the ethereal Tommies (C. tommasinianus) in soft purple shades, their dainty blooms making the familiar big Dutch hybrids look almost clumsy.

In a mature crocus clump, some bulb-like corms work to the surface. Gently scoop them up and plant them elsewhere. This keeps the original planting thrifty for years.

Crocuses, along with jonquils, Grecian windflowers and other little bulbs grow wild by the thousands on Mediterranean hillsides and have been there since before written history. They bloom on 4,000-year-old frescoes and ancient jewelry and vases, proof of their tenacity.

Plant anemones and other little bulbs now, as early as possible, but never just a few. A handful fades into the background. A drift of 50 is another matter. Fortunately they are inexpensive and easy to grow, requiring little attention once planted.

And they satisfy a craving for those of us who can't wait for spring.

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