By: Liz Baessler
Planting flower bulbs is a fantastic way to get the jump on spring gardening. If you plant bulbs in the fall, you’re guaranteeing color and life in your garden early in the spring, probably long before you’re able to go out and plant anything with your hands. So what are some good cold-hardy bulbs? Keep reading to learn more about growing bulbs in zone 5 and some of the best zone 5 flower bulbs.
When it comes to cold-hardy bulbs, there are actually a number to choose from. Here are some of the most commonly planted bulbs for zone 5 gardens:
Daffodil – These bulbs are a popular standard in most gardens. A wide variety of daffodils are available in shades of white, yellow, and orange and in all kinds of sizes. Plant your bulbs in the fall, pointy end up, twice as deep as the height of the bulb.
Iris – This genus of flowers includes over 300 species, many of which will grow with no problem in zone 5. Plant the bulbs in mid to late summer.
Tulip – Tulips are very diverse and come in just about any color you could want. Plant tulip bulbs in late autumn for flowers the following spring.
Lily – Lilies come in just about every color and variety you could want, and many are suitable to zone 5 gardening. When you plant your bulbs in the fall, thoroughly loosen the soil and work in plenty of organic material to ensure good drainage.
Snowdrop – Snowdrops are some of the first flowers to emerge in the spring, often while there is still snow on the ground. The bulbs are usually sold green, or undried, so plant them in the fall immediately after you buy them for the best results.
Hyacinth – These flowers are known mostly for their heavenly scent that’s associated so strongly with spring. Plant your bulbs in early autumn to give the roots time to establish before the first frost.
Crocus – The crocus is one of the earliest spring flowers to pop up in the garden. It’s also one of the hardiest, so zone 5 gardens are no problem for this bulb.
This is just a short list to choose from. For more information about the best flower bulbs in your region, check with your local extension office.
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One of the loveliest scents of spring comes from hyacinths in blooms. Even at a distance, you'll notice these flowers' intense fragrance and spikes of bright colors. Introduced to Europe during the 16th century, hyacinth's popularity sparked Dutch bulb growers to breed more than 2,000 cultivars by the 18th century, and today there are about 60 to choose from in commercial cultivation.
Modern hyacinths are some of the easiest-to-grow spring bulbs—they can be planted in the ground or pots, or grown in water in a bulb vase, no soil required. Hyacinths are best planted in early fall and will grow slowly, emerging as shoots in the spring.
|Botanical Name||Hyacinthus orientalis|
|Common Name||Hyacinth, common hyacinth, Dutch hyacinth, garden hyacinth|
|Mature Size||6–12 in. tall, and 3–6 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Moist but well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Flower Color||White, blue, purple, pink, red|
|Hardiness Zones||4–8 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to dogs and cats|
Bulbs can be separated into two main types: spring and summer.
Spring bulbs: Also called hardy bulbs, these bulbs are planted in fall, spend winter in the ground, and flower in spring. Some of the more common spring bulbs are tulips, irises, daffodils, hyacinth, allium and crocus. These bulbs need several weeks of cold temperatures to break their dormancy and flower to their full potential.
Summer bulbs: Also called tender bulbs, these bulbs are planted in spring and flower or leaf out in summer. Gladiolus, lilies, caladiums, and elephant ears are common examples of summer bulbs. Some will bloom later in summer or for a longer time, like dahlias that bloom into fall.
Summer bulbs aren't tolerant of cold temperatures and should only be planted after the ground warms up and there's no longer a threat of frost. If purchased before planting time, store them in a cool, dry spot until planting.
Tender bulbs, including dahlias, begonias (Begonia tuberosa) and gladiolus, are planted in the spring for summer bloom. Plants with tender bulbs are popular for use in perennial borders, cutting gardens or as bedding plants.
Purchase hardy bulbs in August-September and plant the bulbs as soon as possible.
Purchase tender bulbs in late winter or early spring.
Both hardy and tender bulbs need warmth and bright light to trigger proper growth.
Note that soil near building foundations, especially with a southern or western exposure, may warm up earlier than other areas of your yard causing bulbs planted there to flower earlier.
Early bloomers like these may suffer cold damage. Mulch soil in these areas to help soil warm up more gradually. This will help bulbs to bloom at the right time, when cold damage to flowers and foliage is less likely.
Bulbs need ample light for spring growth and even after the flowering process is completed. After flowering, the leaves generate energy through photosynthesis that is stored in the bulb structure for next year.
The more light bulbs receive, the more energy they generate and the more likely they are to bloom year after year.
Hardy bulbs can be planted underneath or near deciduous trees and shrubs. The hardy bulbs are done blooming by the time the leaves on deciduous trees become dense enough to produce shade.
Bulbs grow best in rich, well-drained soil. A soil test is helpful in determining what additions or "amendments" are needed to improve your soil before planting. Submit a soil sample to the University of Minnesota Soil Test Laboratory every 3-5 years.
The organic material helps to amend soil, creating a good growing environment for bulbs.
Most Minnesota soils are rich in phosphorous, an important macronutrient for blooming. Unless your soil test shows a deficiency in phosphorous or potassium, skip the fertilizer and add in compost when planting bulbs.
Planting depth and spacing
Bulbs are much more attractive if planted in odd numbered groups or mass plantings.
The planting depth and spacing depends on the individual bulb. Follow the instructions provided on the bulb package.
Generally, plant bulbs two to three times deeper than their diameter. This will vary with the type of soil.
List of hardy bulbs for Zones 3 and 4
Hardy Bulbs for U.S.D.A. Cold Hardiness Zones 3 & 4
Trout lily, dogtooth violet
Fritillaria, checkered lily
Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica
Spring care for hardy bulbs
Move mulch aside as soil and air temperatures begin to warm. If a hard frost is forecasted, just push the mulch back over spring bulbs to lessen the change of frost damage.
Hardy bulbs are treated as perennials, left in the ground year after year. Every three to four years they may need to be replaced or divided if they start to crowd each other and are not blooming well.
If you have to move the bulbs because they are crowding or for some other reason, the best time is just after the foliage has yellowed and withered.
Bulbs generally have few insect or disease problems. Some reasons for poor flowering the first year could be:
If bulbs flowered the first year but not the second:
Ideal tulip soil conditions require a slightly acidic pH of 6 to 7 and ample access to organic material, like compost, in all preferred growing zones. You must keep your bulbs free from compacted and soggy soil -- excessively wet bulbs succumb to rot and fail to flower. Because the bulbs use the surrounding soil for nutrients, use a bulb fertilizer with high potassium and phosphorus ratios compared to nitrogen. With proper soil conditions, your bulbs should flower successfully each year. However, it is good practice to move the bulbs to a different location after approximately three years. The new location provides increased nutrient levels and rejuvenates the bulb.
Writing professionally since 2010, Amy Rodriguez cultivates successful cacti, succulents, bulbs, carnivorous plants and orchids at home. With an electronics degree and more than 10 years of experience, she applies her love of gadgets to the gardening world as she continues her education through college classes and gardening activities.