9 Miniature Flowering Bulbs That Add a Splash of Welcome Color in Early Spring
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.