Gardenesque



Bulbs for Clay Soil


In the table below are bulbs that perform well in clay soil in our area. The table includes the basic information needed to help you site these plants properly. It also includes information on deer resistance and rabbit resistance. So far, I haven't seen deer in my garden and the deer information is from various sources that I have collected over the years. The rabbit resistance information is based on my own garden experience as I always seem to find plenty of rabbits in my garden. Here's how to interpret the information:

  • For both Deer Resistant and Rabbit Resistant headings:
    • yes - the plant is not usually eaten. It's possible, though, in some years the pest may eat the plant.
    • no info - there is no definite statement as to the plant's resistance.
    • no - the plant is eaten. Young plants may be eaten though.
    • favorite food - the plant is definitely eaten.
  • Light Requirement heading:
    • sun - 6 or more hours of direct sun each day.
    • pt sh - up to 6 hours of direct sun each day.
    • sun to pt sh - must have some direct sun each day. Flowers better in more direct sun.
    • shade - no direct sunlight.
    • pt sh to shade - less than 6 hours of direct sun to no direct sunlight.
    • sun to shade - will grow in any amount of light.
  • Soil Requirements heading:
    • moist - soil does not dry out quickly.
    • organic - soil has leaf mold or compost or other organic amendment.
    • well drained - soil does not remain soggy and rot the plant's roots.
    • infertile - opposite of organic - lacking soil amendments.

List of Articles on this Page


List of Bulbs for Clay Soil          My Favorite Spring Bulbs         
My Favorite Fall Bulbs         


Botanical Name-Common Name Deer Resistant Rabbit Resistant Light Requirement Soil Requirements
Allium - onion yes yes sun well drained
ArisaemaJack-in-the Pulpit yes yes pt sh moist, organic
Arum italicum - Arum no info yes pt sh to shade moist, organic
Chionodoxa - glory of the snow yes yes sun to pt sh well drained
Crocus spp. favorite food favorite food sun well drained
Cyclamen yes yes pt sh moist, organic
Galanthus - snowdrop yes yes pt sh moist, organic
Hyacinthoides hispanica yes yes pt sh moist, organic
Ipheion uniflorum yes yes sun to pt sh moist
Iris Bearded hybrids no yes sun well drained
Iris sibirica - Siberian Iris yes yes sun moist to dry
Iris ensata - Japanese Iris yes yes sun to pt sh moist, organic
Iris louisiana no info yes sun moist to wet
Leucojum - Snowflake yes yes sun to pt sh moist, organic, well drained
Lilium hybrids no info yes sun to pt sh moist, organic, well drained
Muscari - grape hyacinth yes yes sun to pt sh moist
Narcissus - daffodil yes yes sun to pt sh organic, well drained
Puschkinia - Striped squill yes yes yessun to pt sh organic, well drained
Scilla siberica - wood squill no yes sun to pt sh well drained

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My Favorite Spring Bulbs

Even though the larger tulips and daffodils are flashier, I prefer to plant the small spring bulbs in my own garden and to recommend them for other gardens. My favorites are just about all of them since they bloom at different times in the spring so you can have bulbs blooming from January into the middle of May.

  • Species or Snow Crocus:

    The first bulbs I notice are the species or snow crocus. Even though they are usually smaller than the larger later crocus cultivars, I enjoy them because they are early and are a welcome relief from the grays and browns of winter. I never seem to have enough of the crocus because both the squirrels and the rabbits eat the flowers or leaves or dig the corms out of the ground.

    The spring blooming crocus leaves are narrow or grasslike and appear about the time the flowers bloom. The flowers are very short stemmed with 6 petals or segments forming a cup-like flower. The colors range anywhere from white through yellow, lavender, multi-color, to dark shades of purple. Inside the flower the stamens and pistils are showy-- usually yellow or orange in color.

    Because most crocus come from the hot, dry areas of southern Europe or from mountainous regions, they need a hot, dry location. Don't plant them in areas with moisture loving plants that you'll water heavily in the summer. Plant four inches deep in a sunny, warm, well-drained spot. They live well with the silvery leaved plants such as Dianthus and artemisias that don't need much water in the summer. If the rabbits and squirrels leave enough of them alone, the crocus will multiply readily.

    As you may know by now, fragrance is very important in my garden and I prefer to use plants that are fragrant as well as pretty. A few of the spring flowering crocus are fragrant. They include Crocus Imperati, C. biflorus or Scotch crocus, and C. chrysanthus. The earliest crocus to bloom for me is C. ancyrensis. I usually see this blooming on a sunny hillside in the latter part of January. Other early crocus that are available are C. chrysanthus with many cultivars and a popular cultivar is 'Ladykiller'. C. tommasinianus is touted as squirrel resistant and several of its cultivars are usually available. C. sieberi has several cultivars and is one of my favorites because of its lilac-colored flowers. Many years ago, general plant catalogs sold the species crocus and their cultivars individually. Now, though, Wayside Gardens and other catalogs only sell a mixed group of species crocus. Many of the specialized bulb catalogs do sell the individual species. You can buy these bulbs locally wherever bulbs are sold in the early fall.

  • Large Flowered or Dutch Crocus:

    The large flowering crocus are usually called "Dutch" crocus and they are easier to find in many of the bulb catalogs. The species for these crocus is C. vernus. It has a large group of cultivars that are readily available. These bloom later than the species crocus and also are a joy to see in the spring. I especially enjoyed a large white one call 'Snowstorm' which seems to have been replaced by 'Jeanne d'Arc'. They come in a wide range of gorgeous colors. You can usually purchase individual cultivars locally in the fall.

    The crocus mentioned are available from Brent and Becky's Bulbs, John Scheepers, Inc., and Wayside Gardens.

  • Muscari or Grape Hyacinth:

    Another favorite small bulb is Muscari or Grape Hyacinth. It blooms for about four weeks starting in April. An individual muscari stem with the flowers is really not much to look at (looks somewhat like a miniature hyacinth) but en masse it's wonderful. Grape Hyacinths grow rapidly in sunny, well drained soil as they are from the Mediterranean region of Europe. Muscari bulbs must be planted with a lot of thought because they're evergreen! The leaves appear in late summer and remain through the winter; then they flower in April with the leaves still in tact. The leaves wither away by late May or so. Because of its evergreen quality I don't like planting Grape Hyacinths with other evergreen groundcovers because the bulbs can be messy looking after blooming. Muscari not only naturalizes easily from the bulbs but also selfseeds readily. There are lots of species and cultivars. Colors range from white to blue to dark purple. Muscari is readily available.

  • Ipheion uniflorum or Starflower:

    A bulb that is a great companion for muscari is the sweetly-scented, star-shaped Ipheion uniflora or Spring Starflower. It's not so readily available but it is well worth the hunt. Unlike most other bulbs, it's a native of South America. It grows quickly in the same type of conditions as for Muscari. It's evergreen too and must be sited with care. I definitely like these two bulbs planted together because they bloom at about the same time. They're very long lived; I have an area I planted with these two bulbs 25 years ago and they're still growing very well. If you find one of these bulbs growing in an area where you don't want it growing, just dig it up (with the roots) and replant while blooming. It won't mind one bit. I think most of the small bulbs will allow you to do this. Wayside Gardens always carries Ipheion. It's also available in the specialty bulb catalogs and several cultivars are usually available. I have never seen it offered locally. Hopefully that will change soon.

  • Galanthus nivalis or Snowdrops is another favorite small bulb. Galanthus - SnowdropsIt blooms early--this year it was blooming in February. Unlike most bulbs, Galanthus prefers part shade and rich soil and I think it would look out of place in a bright, sunny area. The flowers hang down from the stems (nodding) so you can't see into them. It only comes in white but there are several species and cultivars, including a double-flowering one. This is another great naturalizer if it likes its spot. Plant bulbs three inches deep and three inches apart. Galanthus is usually available locally and through the bulb catalogs.

  • Scilla siberica or Wood Squill:

    Another great small bulb for sun or part shade is Scilla siberica or Wood Squill. They naturalize readily anywhere. They're tough, beautiful, bloom early—in March this year, and showy with its dark but bright blue flowers. Plant 3 to 4 inches deep and apart. I have not planted them under my pines so I'm not sure how much shade they really can take but I've read they flower under evergreen trees as well. I think I'll plant some this year under the pines to see if this is true. One nice thing about this particular Scilla is that the leaves are very short and wither away quickly so there is no messy scene later on.

  • Anemone blanda or Grecian Windflower is another great bulb for part shade. Unlike all the other bulbs I've discussed, this flower looks like a daisy. So if you like daisies then you'll also enjoy the Grecian Windflower. It also has fern-like foliage instead of the linear foliage of most other bulbs. It blooms in March into April. Again, I prefer the white cultivar 'White Splendor', but it comes in other colors as well—pink, dark pink, and blue. The bulb (actually a tuber-corm) appears dry and shrivelled. It's best to soak the bulbs overnight in warm water before planting. They prefer rich, loamy soil in part shade. Plant four inches apart and deep. When planting these tubers, it's often hard to tell which side is root-side-down, so I plant them what I think is on their sides and let them upright themselves in the soil. If they are not planted root side down, then it may take them a year or two to upright themselves and flower. These anemones are always available locally as well as in the bulb catalogs.

  • Hyacinthoides hispanica or Spanish Bluebells

    The last bulb is Hyacinthoides hispanica or Spanish Bluebells. These squills have gone through several botanical names changes since I've been gardening. I originally knew them as Endymion and later as Scilla hispanica which is what I still call them. But whatever they're called they are great bulbs for a late spring show. These can be planted with earlier blooming bulbs such as Scilla siberica, Ipheion, Muscari, and Galanthus and they will extend the show for additional weeks of colors. Hyacinthoides looks more like a hyacinth and is great in large masses in part shade. Plant four inches deep and four inches apart. Spanish Bluebells come in white, pink, violet, and blue. Many times they're sold in a mixture of colors, and in the bulb catalogs you can purchase them by color. Because of their wide leaves, be sure to plant hostas or other shade plants in front of them to hide their decaying foliage. These are not fragrant but Hyacinthoides non-scripta or English Bluebells are. They also take a woodland situation.


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My Favorite Fall Bulbs

Over the years I haven't purchased many fall-flowering bulbs. Some have flowered and multiplied very well and some disappeared quickly. The ones I especially like are listed below. I'm sorry that I don't have any pictures of the fall bulbs. I hope you give them a try for late season color. Since these bulbs flower in the fall they need to be purchased and planted as soon as they're available in the late summer to early fall.

  • Fall Crocus:

    Crocus sativus or Saffron Crocus has beautiful violet flowers with orange stigmas. This crocus flowers before its leaves appear. The leaves are quite long and remain for quite a while. Because of this I like to plant this crocus among evergreen groundcovers such as periwinkle (Vinca minor) where the leaves will not be so noticeable.

  • Crocus speciosus is a beautiful violet-blue color withSternbergia a bright orange stigma--a beautiful color combination.

  • Cyclamen hederifolium, might also be sold as C. neapolitanum, is a tuber-corm with flowers about one inch in diameter and pink to white with a reddish blotch. It is very similar in appearance to the much larger florist's cyclamen shown to the right except for its size. This cyclamen is blooming now. After flowering, its beautiful marbled, heart-shaped leaves appear and remain through the winter. Once established, cyclamen is very adaptable and will grow in dry, shady areas. As with the Anemone blanda corms, it is very difficult to tell which side of the flat bulbs should be down so it is best to plant them on their sides unless you can tell which side is the top side. After the flowers fade the flower stalk twists into a coil and shoots its seeds far and wide; therefore, you may find cyclamen's beautiful marbled foliage in areas where it wasn't planted.

  • Sternbergia lutea is a favorite of mine because of its bright golden yellow crocus-like flowers. As this bulb is from the Mediterranean region it needs a hot, dry planting site. Follow planting instructions for crocus. I don't think I've ever seen this bulb sold locally but it is available in the mail order catalogs.


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