Enjoy these tiny flowers up close, or plant them in big groups to magnify their cheery effect in the landscape.

By Marty Ross
February 20, 2021

Right about when things get sloppy due to melting snow in late winter or early spring, the come-back flowers of miniature bulbs make their cheerful appearance. And they often multiply in the ground or spread by seed over the years, increasing their colorful display without you having to do anything. These flowers look beautiful on their own, or you can mix different varieties of them to mimic the look of a woodland and play up each one's color and form. Here's a selection of the prettiest types of small bulbs to plant and tips for growing them successfully, plus ideas for how to use them in your garden.

How to Grow Miniature Bulbs

Early fall is the time you'll find small bulbs in nurseries and plant them in your garden. A sunny spot in well-drained soil suits most types—except for winter aconite which grows best in part shade, and for snowdrops and Grecian windflower which are fine in filtered light.

Although all of these tiny early bloomers are often referred to as bulbs, that's a misnomer for some. True bulbs are underground storage structures that have fleshy layers and a papery outer layer like an onion. Glory-of-the-snow, grape hyacinths, rock garden iris, snowdrops, and squills do grow from bulbs. But crocus are, in fact, corms, and winter aconite and Grecian windflower grow from hard, lumpy tubers. Both corms and tubers don't have layers but instead are solid stem tissue. Collectively, all these different underground storage structures are technically known as geophytes.

Soak tubers overnight before planting to help them break dormancy. To plant, dig a hole about three times as deep as the bulbs are tall and place a dozen or more bulbs in each hole with a few inches between each of them. Bulbs and corms should be planted pointed end up, tubers sideways. Water thoroughly after planting, then let them be. Squirrels may dig up bulbs in fall after planting. To deter them, firmly pat the soil over bulbs and cover with bird netting or chicken wire secured with rocks.

After blooming, allow the leaves to mature and fade naturally; they supply nutrition to the bulbs for next year's flowers. Adding fertilizer isn't necessary.

The Best Small Bulbs to Plant in Fall

Most of these tiny bulbs are hardy in Zones 3-8, except for winter aconite, rock garden iris, and windflowers, which are hardy in Zones 5-8. They're 4-6 inches tall with a few exceptions.

Credit: Carson Downing

Evoke spring’s blue skies and puffy white clouds with the starry little flowers of Scilla siberica. Try them in drifts around deciduous trees and shrubs for some early floral color before the branches leaf out after winter.

Credit: Carson Downing

The luxuriously ruffled, pale blue flowers of Puschkinia sport a darker blue stripe down the middle of each petal. Pair them with a pink tulip like 'Heart's Delight' for an eye-catching spring show.

Credit: Brie Passano

Bees love these silky, goblet-shape blooms. Use crocus complement larger hellebore, a hardy perennial which blooms around the same time.

Credit: Jason Donnelly

One cold morning, you'll be greeted by a 3-inch-tall carpet of yellow blossoms. The golden blooms look even more stunning when paired with purple crocus.

Credit: Jason Donnelly

Named for their dense clusters of spring flowers, grape hyacinth (Muscari spp.) foliage often comes up in fall. Use these small bulbs as markers to remind you where you planted other later-blooming bulbs.

Credit: Jason Donnelly

Bright white flowers with distinctive green markings dangle like charms on 6- to 8-inch-tall stems, depending on the variety of Galanthus. They look even more crisp alongside purple rock garden iris.

Credit: Carson Downing

This tiny flower looks best planted in clusters at the front of garden beds. It's also easy to force indoors in a container.

Credit: Jacob Fox

Daisy-like flowers of Anemone blanda all but hide the leaves while in bloom. Varieties are available in shades of purple, pink, and white, as well as bicolors.

Credit: Carson Downing

The star-shape flowers of Chionodoxa bulbs range from pale pink to blue. Mix them with grape hyacinth to mimic the look of a river winding through your garden beds.


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