Shallots to Scilla – Plan Now for Fall Planting

This year’s official* growing season started a full month earlier than usual in our part of the Hudson Valley. Although last week was spangled with frost, spring is already more or less over. Even late-flowering bulbs are toast. The lilacs are in full bloom.

Not wishing to miss the bandwagon, I’ll go ahead and be early too. It’s time to order bulbs for fall planting: pretties for the borders, shallots for the plate.

spring bulbs: muscari, chionodoxa,scilla, puschkinia

clockwise from left: chionodoxa, muscari, puschkinia, muscari, chionodoxa, scilla, puschkinia, chionodoxa, scilla

On the Ornamental Front – Singing the Blues

I don’t think I’ve ever met a “minor,” aka small, bulb I didn’t like, but this year my mind is on the little blues: scilla and chionodoxa, muscari and puschkinia.

In addition to being blue, already a major plus, these old favorites are terrific bargains – inexpensive to buy, easy to plant (see below), and, bless ’em, reliably prolific.

Once you get them going they not only persist forever, they also multiply and move around. Clumps expand into little puddles. Adventurous volunteers pop up far from the original plantings, wildflowers once more.


Placement: These are early bloomers, but not that early, so it’s unwise to plant them where they’ll get mowed before the leaves have fed the bulbs and the flowers have set seed. I’ve put most of ours at the edges of beds and in the skirts of the trellis of Dutchman’s Pipe that borders the crocus lawn. Annie next door has a wavy blue sea below the trees at the edge of her drive, and she just lets the grass there get shaggy until it’s safe to mow.

blue bulbs in lawn

Deep blue scilla is dominant in this stretch at Annie's, but there are also plenty of chionodoxa and grape hyacinth, once you start looking.


In grassy areas:  For each clump of 10 to 20 bulbs (depending on size of bulb, not size of budget), envision a rough circle about 10 inches in diameter. Cut all the way around it with a shovel, then cut underneath 2 to 3 inches, so you have a disk of sod. Remove it, loosen the dirt underneath, then position the bulbs on it, pointing up, about 2 bulb-widths apart. (Do not add fertilizer) Replace the disk and press down firmly with a foot.

Elsewhere: In thickly planted beds, you can just use a trowel to lever a wedge-shaped opening and put a few bulbs in it. If the soil is soft after a rain you can sometimes simply push them firmly into spaces between perennials.

Putting some in the cutting garden is usually unnecessary, but if you were planning the sort of wedding that gets planned many months in advance you might want to plant a patch to be harvested for nosegays – Muscari armeniacum have a lovely, not-too-sweet fragrance –  and table decorations.

Shallot planting info coming shortly. Meanwhile, get those orders in;  less-common varieties, including French gray “true” shallots ( Allium oschanini) sell out fast.

I get my little blues from Brent and Becky and from Van Engelen. Shallots come from my personal friends at Johnny’s Selected Seeds,  from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and from Kitchen Garden Seeds (the food branch of Van Engelen).

* The National Weather Service declares the growing season’s start each year,  based on a number of mostly  pretty obvious factors. Once an area is officially in its growing season, frost and freeze warnings are issued whenever warranted until the season is declared officially over.

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  • Emily Said,

    Hi Leslie,
    Your website is great! My husband just pointed it out to me yesterday and I’ve been trying to catch up on all the information you have out here. This post caught my eye because I had just been thinking about planting shallots for the next season. But, I figured it is too late to get any sort of harvest this year, and it would be something I plant in the fall along with my garlic so that next year they can be picked in the summertime. I assumed they were on the same planting schedule, but perhaps I am wrong…? We live in the same region (we’re in Poughkeepsie), and would like to know more details about when you plant and when you harvest so I don’t miss the boat this year. Also, is there a difference in how seeds vs. sets are planted? (I know you said planting info is coming shortly, so sorry if I am jumping the gun!) 🙂

    Thanks very much!

    Welcome, Emily – I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog. Please rest assured the shallot info is coming along soon, and that it will be in plenty of time. (You’re right about it being too late to plant for this year). The only thing it would be wise to do right now is order – seeds, sets or both – for fall delivery.

  • abby jenkins Said,

    What a beautiful bouquet! I love all the minor bulbs, so easy to plant. Don’t get me wrong I am a bulb addict and love almost all, I can never get enough planted in the spring and when I see the fruits of my labor, like right now (April) I wish I planted more. Never enough!

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