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tulips

Add bulbs to your garden now for a burst of spring color!

It’s not quite time to hang up the gardening tools just yet.  Even though it’s quite cold and you may even see some snowflakes, now is the best time to plant bulbs for a punch of color in the spring.  There are many bulbs to chose from, the super early ones, like Snow Crocus or Winter Aconite, that will pop up when snow is still on the ground to late blooming Alliums that will give you color into late spring and even early summer!

Bulbs are relatively cheap when it comes to plants.  So they are a great way to add to your garden if you are on a budget.  Most bulbs will naturalize and continue to “pop” up in the garden year after year.  Some bulbs, although gorgeous to start, might only have a few good years.  Grab those catalogs and research those plants and start planning for spring.

Tulips and Hyacinths are sometimes used as annuals, that’s because the first spring they bloom will most likely be their best display as they rapidly decline after that.  Daffodils will form colonies that will blossom year after year.  There are quite a few smaller bulbs available, and although small they can produce a mighty display when planted en mass.  Grape Hyacinth is a tiny work horse that should be in every garden as well as Crocus, Snowdrops, Siberian Squill and many more.  Lastly the Alliums will be the fireworks of your garden.  Often blooming late spring into early summer, with varieties that can be 3-4′ tall with flowers 6-8″ wide, they are a surefire hit!  There are many varieties of Allium, some of the larger flower types (as mentioned) but there are also smaller flowers (size and height) available that will pop up in your garden!

So get those tools back out and start planting those little packages of sunshine know as bulbs!

Don’t have time?  Give us a call there is still a good selection of bulbs to chose from that we can get in the ground for you!

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Shrub, Perennial and Bulb planting for extended bloom time.

One of the biggest challenges in creating a successful landscape here in the Chicagoland area is achieving color and interest from the first signs of spring to the doldrums of the November transition and cold harsh winters.  In the challenging plant hardiness Zone 4/5, we see shortened growing seasons and drying winter winds that in extreme years, can do major damage on well established landscape plants.

In the winter of ’13-’14, we saw subzero temperatures for a record length of time, which we came to be know as the Polar Vortex.  These high pressure systems created dry, freezing temperatures for weeks at a time.  When this occurs, just as it happens to our skin when exposed to extreme wind and cold, plants dry out and don’t get a chance to recover and absorb available moisture in the surrounding soil of the plant’s root zone.  This results in severe winter burn and ultimately the death of not just marginal plants in our zone, but typically hardy and well established plants such as Yews and Boxwood.

winter burn on buxus

Boxwoods after a long winter.

In the spring of 2014, most landscape professionals began their season with an industry wide record number of plant replacements, which made most reassess their use of marginal plants such as Butterfly Weed, Gaillardia, Lavender, Weigela, Hibiscus and certain varieties of Rose.  Foundation plants and hedge rows of yews and boxwood all over the North Shore, that had withstood 30+ years of Chicago winters, suddenly browned and died and needed to be removed.  Although this removal creates a hole in the established landscape, it also presents an opportunity for a new landscape planting that is not just hardy and sustainable in our climate, but can add interest through extended bloom time and seasonal interest.

The key to creating an interesting, colorful landscape, with long lasting, overlapping color throughout the entire growing season is found in not just successful plant combinations, but careful selection of species and cultivars to fill gaps in an otherwise dull time of year.

Starting with the earliest color coming out of the winter is a hardy native shrub, Witchhazel, which reaches peak bloom time in Jan-March.  It can be used as a foundation shrub, or specimen, but should be considered for its early color, even before the earliest bulbs emerge.

hamamelis vernalis in bloom

Early blooms of Witchhazel.

Moving on from our lone, late winter bloomer, we can incorporate the earliest signs of life and color by utilizing spring bulbs (List courtesy of Breck’s), planted in the fall for the first blooms of the growing season.

Very early spring:

Snowdrops: Snowdrops, or Galanthus, are often the first blooms to appear in spring – and they’re a great choice for areas that stay cool a bit later in the year. These are incredibly hardy, and most flower before the last day of winter!

Snow crocus: The early-blooming varieties within the Crocus genus produces small flowers, with a longer blooming season, than giant crocuses. They’ll start blooming in late winter, and can flower in colours of pink, purple, yellow, white, or even blue, depending on variety.

Winter aconite: Imagine a golden floral carpet replacing your winter snow cover!

Early snow glories: Glory-of-the-snow, or Chionodoxa, are another “northern” plant that can actually perform well in both northern and temperate climates.

Dwarf iris mixture: Some varieties of Dutch irises bloom extra early – usually low-growing dwarf irises!

Early Spring:

Grecian Windflower: Grecian windflowers, a daisy-shaped species of anemone, bloom in shades of pink, blue, violet and white in early spring.

Giant crocus: Just like smaller species crocuses,giant crocus are great for naturalizing. Plant a drift of giant Dutch crocuses of a single colour, or mix colours for a more natural effect. Their larger flowers (usually 4” to 6” in height) provide a lovely, low-growing pop of brightness.

Trumpet daffodils: Trumpet daffodils are the classic daffodils, with cups longer than their petals. They feature a single flower per stem and are very hardy – and bloom soon after the snow melts!

Hyacinths: Jewel-toned hyacinth flowers bloom in dense spikes and are among the brightest colours you’ll see in early spring.

Early tulips: Dwarf tulips, such as the Wild Blue Heart tulip, are low-growing species that flower in early spring. Emperor tulips, or Fosteriana tulips, also bloom early in the season.

Extending the season of your garden has now been established with the diligent fall planting of several varieties of spring bulbs.  We now look to capture early season color with early blooming shrubs such as Forsythia, Cornelian Cherry Dogwood, Serviceberry and certain hardy varieties of Rhododendron and Azalea.  These woody shrubs establish a structure and form difference that is important in creating different layers in a successful landscape composition.  Shrubs with long flowering periods such as Hydrangea and Viburnum and Weigela can also be selected to keep the later season blooms coming down the pipeline.

Continuing into the months of April various perennials and groundcover should be chosen for their overlapping bloom time.  Certain varieties of herbaceous species may even give you 2 rounds of flowering if pruned back at the right time such as Catmint, Salvia and Geranium.  Other perennials should be chosen for their continuous blooming or extended bloom time.  This group includes such plants as; Allium, Hemerocallis, Coreopsis, Echinacea and Astilbe.

Additionally, in our climate, you may find extended bloom time through the utilization of hardy Mums and Asters for fall blooming.  Potted Mums can be installed in a prepared planting bed, with the likelihood that they will return for another show the following fall.  To increase your chance for the return of the hardy Mums, spread compost around the base of these plants in a small mounds.

Fall Aster

Fall Blooming Asters

Finally, ornamental grasses round out the blooms of the season, putting on an impressive display of their seed heads, which typically stand tall and beautiful until the first heavy snow of the season knocks them down into a messy pile needing to be tamed with pruners or hedge trimmers.

Landscape interest and color displays are not limited to blooms of course. Summer foliage color, fall foliage color, winter stem color and evergreens should all be considered when planning a garden that truly performs in every month of the season.  Call us to get your season of color started with a landscape plan!

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