I wouldn’t call my garden a spring masterpiece, but there are still quite a few blooms to give me pause. It’s mostly bulbs and ephemerals, at this time of year. I still love daffodils for their sheer stamina. They’ve been blooming for weeks and can handle this suggestion of heat far better than the tulips can.
But it’s the spring ephemerals that catch my eye. Ephemeral means lasting for only a brief period and that’s just what these spring flowers do. They burst forth in early spring and then disappear when the weather heats up. Luckily they don’t die off, they just die back to their roots and take the summer off. Before they do, they find the energy to spread out a bit, feed the early waking insects, and go to seed. They deserve the rest.
You enjoy them while they are here, but once out of sight, out of mind. So here are some tips for caring for your spring ephemerals, even if you forget they are there.
❦ Their natural habitat is woodland. Give them a soil rich in compost, a neutral-ish soi pH, spring moisture, and summer shade.
❦ Although they love a damp spring, they don’t like sitting in wet soil all summer, when they are dormant.
❦ Mulch with shredded leaves.
❦ Most are considered wildflowers and, although they can grow without a lot of fuss, they may take several years to fill out into an established clump.
❦ The best time to buy and plant them is in spring or very early summer. Look for them in native plant nurseries, like Catskill Native, and online.
❦ The only way to be absolutely sure of the flower color you are buying is to purchase them in bloom. They can be tricky customers.
❦ The best time to divide ephemerals is right after flowering. Don’t wait, or you could miss your chance for another year.
❦ Most are low growing plants and they look best in a mass planting. Since that can take awhile, it’s worth it to start with as many plants as you can afford.
❦ Small plants often have a better chance at becoming established than trying to transplant large wildflowers.
❦ Be sure to plant things that will fill in around them, as they go dormant. You might also want to mark where they are, so you aren’t tempted to plant something in their spot.
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)3
Calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa)
Celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)
Dogtooth Violet (Erythronium dens-canis)
Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)1
Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)
Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla patens)
Rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)
Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)
Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis)
Toothwort (Dentaria diphylla)
Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)2
Trout lily (Erythronium americanum)
Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla)4
Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica)