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When picking bulbs, aim for a long season

Tulips rank among the favorite for spring beauty but are not the only choices among bulbs for planting this fall.
Tulips rank among the favorite for spring beauty but are not the only choices among bulbs for planting this fall. AP file photo

The arrival of flower bulbs in stores reminds us all that spring is a mere six months away. But planting time to make spring beautiful comes in the weeks ahead.

Boxes of the big three among flower bulbs – tulips, daffodils and hyacinths – offer plenty of choices in color and style. They are not, however, your only choices. Looking at the array of boxes in stores or leafing through bulb catalogs, you will see a huge variety of choices that will bring bloom to your flowerbeds for a long stretch from late winter to late spring.

These include crocuses, snowdrops, snowflakes, grape hyacinths, ornamental onions, Dutch irises and more. Each in its own way offers an opportunity to brighten an edge, a corner or a pot. Most of these bulbs are short enough to plant in front of a stretch of tulips or daffodils, which will extend the season of beauty in that particular spot.

Some things to think about as you shop:

▪ Stretch the season. Don’t sink all your space and money into a single kind of bulb, such as a yellow trumpet daffodil or a red tulip. Notice on the labels that bulbs are often marked early, midseason or late. That means blooming time. Early tends to mean February, midseason usually signals March and late is April into early May.

Even if you only love daffodils, enough choices exist among them to have a long season of blooms, starting even as early as January, weather permitting. Tulips don’t have quite as long a range, but with careful selection among the varieties, tulip time can be more than two weeks in April.

▪ Don’t miss opportunities. Here, I’m talking about odd spots such as corners or edges left unfilled after the big bulbs get planted. These are not to be overlooked and present perfect spots for shorter bulbs that are inexpensive and can be planted in groups for a small splash of color. An unplanted corner or edge will look bare, not beautiful, next spring.

▪ Go for fragrance. Hyacinths are your top choice for fragrance. Nothing beats them. But there are other choices too, such as the Cheerfulness and Yellow Cheerfulness daffodils that bloom after hyacinths and do their part to extend the scent season. Other choices include Thalia and Geranium daffodils and, in mid-to-late spring, grape hyacinths.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. I have a hibiscus plant in a pot that has been very pretty all summer. I think it might be a tropical plant. What should I do with it when it gets cold?

A. Most hibiscus plants sold as pot plants in spring and early summer are tropical plants and will not withstand freezing weather. Plan to bring it indoors before winter. These plants get quite big, so you may consider cutting it back now by a third or so. That should get it to a manageable size for indoors, but there will probably be some fresh growth this fall.