Many of spring's exquisite flowers, like these tulips and primrose, are actually planted in the fall. (Getty Images/Armstrong Garden Centers)

Many of spring’s exquisite flowers, like these tulips and primrose, are actually planted in the fall. (Getty Images/Armstrong Garden Centers)

Many of spring’s exquisite flowers require advance planning, and irises, daffodils, freesias, and anemones are among them. Don’t wait until you see them blooming in your neighbor’s garden — it will be too late! Now’s the time to plant in Santa Monica.

We all know those bulbs as spring flowers, but these classics are fall-planted. Because of that, nursery folks often call them “fall” bulbs.

Bulbs are very easy to grow and pleasant to plant. Guides from the Netherlands bulb growers say, “Dig, Drop, Done!” And it is almost that simple. Add a little bulb food to the “drop” part and the job‚Äôs just about finished.

Your choices are many, including dainty to assertive flower shapes, just about every Crayola color, with heights ranging from petite “peekers” to tall, bold statements.

Bearded irises should be in everyone’s garden. Nothing’s easier or more spectacular. Modern hybrids bloom several times each year. Colors range from dreamy pastels to dramatic browns and blacks. The spear-shaped foliage is a great contrast to shrubs, annuals and perennials.

Daffodils are the quintessential spring flower. The cheery golden trumpet flowers (or white, even pink) can be petite or traditional-sized. Freesias are elegant and richly fragrant. Dutch irises are classic florist flowers. Why not grow your own?

For Mediterranean style gardens, plant ixia and sparaxis. You’ll enjoy these unusual, low-water, low-care flowers for many years.

Tulips and hyacinths require chilling before planting. Place them in the refrigerator (not the freezer, and not near ripening fruit) until after the Christmas holidays, then plant. You’ll have stunning cut flowers next spring.

If you plan for it, you can have ever-changing beauty from late winter through spring’s last days. Devise a succession of colors, from pastels to bolds as the season progresses. Play with shapes and sizes. Contrast always works! Or if you love bouquets, plan a cutting garden.

More experienced gardeners may want to create interesting pairings with flowering shrubs and trees. Or plant bulbs in containers and over-plant with annuals for non-stop waves of blooms. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Bulbs love the climate in Santa Monica and can always be moved to a new location if you have something else in mind.

With bulbs, size matters. The bigger the bulb, the more blooms you’ll have. Buy only the largest Grade 1 bulbs. Small, inexpensive bulbs may not even bloom the first spring. Plant in groups of one kind and color; they look best in groups and masses. Better to buy fewer varieties and more of them.

Caring for bulbs is simple once a few basic needs are met. Bulbs need full sun to bloom their best, and they all require good drainage. With soil that is too soggy, they will rot and simply disappear. Feed them at planting time with a granular, organic bulb food to promote root growth and blooms next spring.

Once they’re finished flowering, it’s important to feed them again. The healthy foliage will allow the bulb to store energy for next year’s blooms. Don’t remove the leaves until they are yellow and easy to pull away.


Dig, drop, done!


Planting bulbs is easy.

1. Dig a hole at the proper depth for each bulb type. Rule of thumb: two to three times the bulb’s height. (If you’re not sure, planting too deep is better than too shallow.)

2. Mix in bulb food at the bottom of the hole.

3. Place the bulb pointy end up in the bottom.

4. Fill hole with soil. Firm with your hand.

5. Water thoroughly once to settle the soil. Rains will water until spring.

6. Little winter rain like last year? Water once a month.


Arnulfo Bahena, CCNP, is the manager for Armstrong Garden Centers located at 3226 Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica. E-mail him your gardening questions to or call (310) 829-6766. Visit Armstrong Garden Centers online at

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