Horticulture Magazine

10 Winter Flowering Bulbs (And When To Plant Them)

violet crocuses in a late winter garden

Winter flowering bulbs can provide a much-needed splash of colour and a mite of cheer to an otherwise drab display during the colder months of the year.

Characterised by short days and long nights, winter can become something of a slog for green-fingered enthusiasts.

Not only does the inclement weather prevent you from getting your hands dirty, but it also often kills off the carefully cultivated growth that you’ve fostered throughout the year.

That can leave your garden looking rather forlorn and forgotten, especially when branches are bare and lawns are covered in a blanket of snow.

However, there’s no reason to despair. By selecting the appropriate bulbs and planting them with adequate preparation time, you can ensure that colourful blossoms brighten up your garden just when it (and perhaps you!) need it the most.

Thankfully, there are a wide variety of winter flowering species to choose from, all of which are far hardier than their fair-weather counterparts and will often survive the frosts of the season to surge back resilient next year.

Of course, it is possible to buy any of the following plants when they are already in full bloom from your local garden centre after winter has set in.

Having said that, it’s not exactly an advisable course of action. For starters, you’ll be forced to brave the elements to put your purchases in the ground and there’s no guarantee the soil will be forgiving on your trowel or hospitable for the new arrivals.

And that’s even before the additional expense is added into the equation.

Instead, it’s a better idea to do your homework in advance and identify which bulbs you’d like to incorporate into your winter display, then buy and bury them earlier in the year.

The following selection includes just some of the options open to you, all of which should be planted at least a couple of months before the first frost to give them the best chance of survival.

Others will require you plant them into the soil as early as summertime to allow them to properly establish themselves.

If any doubt, read the label which came with your bulbs or else ask for advice at your local gardening centre.

1) Chionodoxa

blue star-shaped Chionodoxa in snow
In all its glory!

It’s not known as ‘Glory of the Snow’ for nothing!

This starry-shaped early bloomer will unfold its delicate blue petals long before any of your spring-flowering selection consider braving the elements.

Chionodoxa should be planted in early autumn (September is ideal) in well-draining soil and in full exposure to the sun.

It also works decidedly well underneath deciduous trees or shrubs, since its propensity for February blooming means that it will emerge before the foliage above it has time to spring forth and block its sunlight.

2) Crocus

yellow crocuses protruding through a thick blanket of snow
Crocuses won’t croak, even in the wintriest of weathers.

Crocus bulbs are actually known as corms and produce vibrant bursts of purple, white and yellow from late winter through to mid-spring.

They’re easy-going plants that can be planted anytime between August and November, thriving best in full sun and well-drained soil.

They’re also a welcome source of nectar for bees and other pollinators just emerging from their hibernation cycles – but be aware that rodents also enjoy their foliage, so plant them next to less tasty offerings (like hyacinths) to deter unwanted snacking.

3) Cyclamen coum

pink cyclamen flowers surrounded by fallen snow
Cyclamen breaks the cycle of winter decline.

With their first flowers appearing in the depths of January, cyclamen coum is one of the hardiest species of winter-flowering bulbs.

Don’t let that fool you, though; it’s also one of the most impressive you can incorporate into your winter arrangements.

The stunning variegated foliage, combining slivers of silver alongside a deep dark green, plays backdrop to the deceptively dainty pink, white and red blossoms.

Plant it in September and October in moist soil, but don’t let its leaves get overly wet or they may succumb to rot.

4) Daffodils

single yellow daffodil in focus with snow on top
This narcissus just can’t wait to peek its head above the snow.

Easily recognisable by their trumpet-like blooms and profound shades of white and yellow, daffodils come in a variety of different species which are sure to complement any existing aesthetic you have in your garden.

Most of them will bloom from March onwards, but some, such as “February Gold”, will brave the elements even earlier.

They should be planted sometime in autumn (September to November, though an earlier date will normally precipitate an earlier blossom) in full sun and well-drained soil.

Once the flower show is over, deadhead the plant and allow the foliage to die back naturally so that it can re-emerge triumphant the following year.

5) Daphne

Daphne mezereum blooms covered in ice
Appealing but poisonous.

Daphne mezereum is a species of the genus which is often colloquially known as “February Daphne” due to its ability to flower earlier in the year than its kin.

In late winter, the plant will suddenly burst into life with clusters of pink or violet blossoms that exude an irresistible perfume, so it might be a good idea to plant a cluster of them close to the house or pathway so you can benefit from their olfactory delights.

Just beware that the scent of daphne is attractive to animals as well as humans, but all parts of it (especially its scarlet red berries) are highly toxic, so keep it away from pets and young children.

Plant in May and June to reap the best results the following year.

6) Hellebore

white hellebore flower sticking out of snow covered ground
Hellish name but heavenly appearance.

Hellebores are another species that require proactive planting – get them in the ground anytime from April onwards (but no later than July) to enjoy the full effect of their loveliness at the turn of the year.

It really is a case of early to bed, early to rise for these beautiful flowers, since they’ll begin to bloom in January and keep at it right until mid-spring.

Their colourful, conical flowerheads are perhaps the main attraction, but the unusual nature of their sepals and the marbled leaves of some of the more recently developed hybrids are other strings to the hellebore bow.

7) Iris

wild iris in early spring
A flower fit for French royalty.

Irises have long been associated with French monarchy, thanks to their starring role as the “fleur-de-lis” on many royal fripperies and fancies.

While most varieties wait until summer to put on a show, certain species, like the iris reticulata pictured above, will blossom in late winter.

Regardless of variety, bulbs should be planted in the autumn months and are quite fussy about their location – it must be well-draining and in full view of the sun.

Comply with those conditions, however, and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular purple and blue petals with a yellow splash in each centre in late February or early March.

8) Siberian squill

blue Scilla Siberica flowers
From Siberia to suburbia.

A native of Russia and the Caucasus region, Scilla Siberica knows a thing or two about withstanding wintry temperatures.

Indeed, its origins in Siberia mean that it’s well-equipped to handle even the worst ravages of the British climate and will do just fine in almost all soil types.

Get it in the ground from September to November to enjoy its delicately drooping bell-shaped blooms and slim, straplike leaves as early as March.

It’s a willing self-seeder and will propagate into large clumps with the minimum of assistance.

9) Snowdrops

an early spring snowdrop flower growing from snow covered ground
The classic winter bloomer.

Snowdrops are the archetypal flower that springs to mind when considering bulbs that bloom in winter.

With its iconic drooping white petals and dainty, slender stalks, it’s almost an image of the season itself.

There are a wide variety of Galanthus available these days, with galanthophiles falling over themselves to pay top dollar for just one bulb.

However, there’s no need to break the bank to get your hands on species like “Flore Pleno”, which will take root wherever you sprinkle them.

Get them in the ground in October and November to enjoy a spectacular and natural-looking display come late winter.

10) Winter aconite

many yellow winter aconite flowers growing over rocky, snowy ground
Winter aconite is an acolyte of the winter gardener.

So, technically speaking, winter aconite is a tuber, not a bulb – but it shares many of the same characteristics and demands much the same in the way of planting and maintenance.

These fussy plants can be a little difficult to establish, which is why it might be an idea to plant them in pots initially – before transplanting them to the ground once they’ve fully taken root.

In any case, you should look to plant in September or October, while they’ll deliver your reward in the shape of February or March blooms. And when it does arrive, you’ll soon see it was worth the effort.

Characterised by delicate cups of brilliant yellow atop a ruff of bright green foliage, winter aconites look for all the world like buttercups enjoying a winter holiday.

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