This fall, think spring

Getting your gardens ready before the ground freezes.

Blue chionodoxa. —Karen Blackerby Logan

Christine and husband Chuck Wiley are the owners of Vineyard Gardens in West Tisbury.

Would you wear a down jacket in the summer or flip-flops in the winter? Landscaping is just as seasonal as the clothes you wear. The timing of your landscaping efforts goes hand in hand with the season — and right now is the best time to plant spring bulbs. Planting in the fall allows a jump-start to spring growth and spectacular color. Timing is everything.

Spring bulbs need to be planted before the ground freezes. “Dig, drop, done,” is how Netherland Bulb describes it. One option is to plant small bulbs on top of larger bulbs. You can choose bulbs that will bloom at the same time to create wonderful displays of color and texture. Another option is to stagger the blooming cycle by planting mid- and late-season bloomers together, allowing for a succession of color. Planting in clusters is another visually impactful design method. Clusters give a concentration of color for a beautiful and dramatic effect. Apply fertilizer in the spring, when they are due to emerge. Do not put organic fertilizers in during planting, as the smell can attract digging varmints.

The life cycle of many plants contains a dormant period. For spring bulbs, that dormant period is during the winter months. The bulb is the storage structure of the plant. Once the bulbs are done blooming, the leaves create energy that gets stored within the bulb. They need that foliage as the food-making factory, so it’s best to let it die back on its own. In turn, the bulb feeds off the stored energy while dormant to produce flowers in the spring. A beautiful life cycle, indeed.

It is important not to disturb bulbs while dormant. A creative way to mark the bulbs’ location is to plant grape hyacinths in with the mix in that specific location. Grape hyacinths send up their foliage in the fall, which remains throughout winter. It can serve as an indicator of where the bulbs are planted, a reliable reminder that frees your mind from doing the work.

To ensure your bulbs make it through the winter, there should be good drainage — bulbs rot if the ground is too wet. To ward against saturated soil, don’t plant bulbs at the bottom of hills, or areas where you have standing water in spring. As long as the bulbs stay dry and unconsumed, they will flower the following spring. Bulbs are only available when they’re dormant, and they’re only dormant in the fall. Plant them now, and come spring, you’ll be happy you did.

On the other hand, some bulbs bloom in the fall. Associating fall with colorful crocuses may seem like a misnomer. But once you learn about colchium, your views on fall color may change. Colchium are beautiful, large, pink crocus-like flowers that bloom in the fall, bringing a magical springlike treasure to your autumn garden. This fall-blooming crocus is such an exception, because once planted, it blooms almost immediately. In the spring it emerges with green foliage until early summer, when the foliage dies back, and the bulb remains dormant until it blooms again in the fall. It is a wonderful addition to any garden, adding a burst of color, plus it’s able to easily naturalize and come back year after year. They are a stunning addition around patios, walkways, in front of shrubs, among low-growing perennials or in meadows. Colchicum are in full bloom right now at Vineyard Gardens.

Some good spring bulbs to consider planting now are daffodils (narcissus), tulips, hyacinths, snowdrops (galanthus), and blue chionodoxa.

Try some of the less common bulbs like fritillaries, leucojum or the tiny yellow eranthis. Camassia and globe alliums are good deer-resistant options — they thrive in partial shade. Species tulips, the little ones that colonize, are also a good deer-resistant option. Deer love the cut-flower tulips. Early-, mid-, and late-season daffodils extend the bloom period. Many are fragrant, and they all make great cut flowers. One of the latest is the poeticus. It has a tiny orange cup on the inside that distinguishes it from other daffodils. It’s deer-resistant, and still blooming in late May to early June.

This fall, think spring!


For more information on Vineyard Gardens, visit, or visit them at 484 State Rd. in West Tisbury.