Stillwater News Press


January 7, 2012

In the Garden 01-08-12

One of the best bulbs for naturalizing is known by a number of different names. I recognized it by the traditional bell shaped flowers in a looser, nodding cluster than the classic tight spikes of Hyacinth orientalis.

As botanists shuffled and changed this flower from the genus Scilla to Endymion, I was unsure of the correct Latin name. This is probably unimportant to most readers, but I was taught old school; common names change with regions and without the Latin, proper identification was impossible.

Today, I think the industry has settled on Hyacinthoides to classify wood hyacinth, squill, Spanish or English bluebells. Subtle differences are evident between the Spanish (H. hispanica) and English (H. non-scripta), but planted together, they cross-breed.

If you are shopping for these bulbs, the Spanish tolerates more heat and it is said therefore to be better suited to Oklahoma and parts south. However, H. hispanica lacks the fragrance of the English species, and that is a primary attraction to those like me who like to cut a bouquet to perfume a room.

In late spring, temperatures in Stillwater are usually still moderate enough to plant the English variety, I believe. Remember a bulb’s culture; after it blooms, foliage remains for only six to eight weeks, feeding the bulb for the succeeding spring. With an occasional watering and annual application of phosphorus, either species should have time to gather and store energy and enter into summer dormancy before our temperatures really soar.

Though marketed as bulbs, wood hyacinths have a proclivity to reseed; this is what makes them an excellent choice for naturalizing. Plant the bulbs 3-4 inches deep and 6 inches apart under deciduous trees or in open spaces in dappled sun. (A winter mowing will eliminate dead clumpy grasses that may detract if not obscure your spring flower display.)

It is their ability to spread with little encouragement that brings many gardeners to plant Hyacinthoides. For this reason I strongly urge you to avoid planting bulbs in mixed borders or perennial beds. Every plant has a right place, and this one needs to be in a spot that is not pampered or it will become a weed.

In drifts, bluebells do not need frequent division. As the stand establishes itself you may like to share some of your jewels with friends. In this case, dig and divide in fall. Some people suffer contact dermatitis from handling the bulbs, so be sure to wear gloves when dividing.

LeeAnn Barton, Stillwater, can be emailed at

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