There is nothing more welcoming than the sight of bright cheerful flowers that herald the end of Winter and the promise of Spring and Summer. Bulbs, by their nature, have to be among the easiest plants to grow as they come complete with all their food reserves, and will bring cheer to even the most dreariest garden or patio. They will give you an array of colour each year and to ensure this just follow a few of our tips.
Colour and time of flowering are two of the most important factors to consider when planning your bulb and garden planting.
Remember some bulbs (most of which you plant in the autumn) are hardy and can remain undisturbed for years, whilst other (most of the bulbs planted in Spring apart from Lilies) are tender and should be dug up and stored before the cold weather sets in.
To store summer flowering bulbs, dug the bulbs when the foliage has withered or turned brown by a light frost. Air dry in a well-ventilated area for a week. then remove all soil from the bulbs. Bulbs must be dry before storing or they will rot. Dust the bulbs with a fungicide and store in dry peat moss or wood shavings in a brown paper bag, open crate, netted bag or even old tights! Store at 50-55 degrees in a dry location until time to replant.
As a general rule, all bulbs (apart from cyclamen) should be planted about 3 times the depth of the bulb itself.
Naturalizing means to grow your bulbs which makes them look like wild flowers growing naturally and one of the best ways to do this is to mimic their natural habitat. To achieve a natural look, say on lawns or under trees, simply scatter a few bulbs and just plant them where they land. This will also assist with their naturalisation. However if planting them in a grassed area that needs to be mown, make sure that the leaves have died down before moving. Also, after several years, naturalised bulbs can get congested and this can affect their flowering performance. Ensure this does not happen by digging up and splitting the larger clumps in late summer or early autumn. Break each clump by hand into smaller groups and replant.
Most bulbs like a well-drained soil in a sunny position and enrich the soil beneath them with compost or manure. Bulbs need to be fed during flowering each year to ensure flowering in future years. Ask your local Garden Centre for recommended feeds. Fritillaria Meleagris, Snakeshead lily, grows naturally in wet meadows, so its perfect to plant for naturalising especially in damp lawns.
Good soil preparation is recommended before planting the bulbs. Make sure the soil is loose and free draining. A well-drained soil is a must or bulbs will rot. On heavy soils, such as clay, add plenty of organic matter to assist with this.
The spacing of bulbs depends largely on the effect you are trying to create. The most effective display is obtained by planting in clumps.
Let the foliage on the bulbs die back before trimming it back or lifting the bulbs. If healthy green foliage is cut back the bulb is unlikely to perform the following year as it is during this time that energy is stored in the bulb for the next flowering period.
You could always fill those gaps in your border by plugging them with bulbs grown in pots. Buy a few extra bulbs, pot them up and keep them in a cool and sheltered position over winter. Once they have started to flower, simply transfer them into those empty spaces and they will grow happily in their new home. All types of bulbs including narcissus, tulips, crocus and iris can be grown in pots.
Most bulbs need full sun, with exception of woodland bulbs such as bluebells, which need shade. As your garden matures and they become shaded, it may be worth lifting them and transferring them to a sunnier spot.
Routine care of your bulbs
Always leave the foliage on the plant long enough for it to make enough energy for the following year. For daffodils this is usually a minimum period of six weeks. The exception to this are tulips, which need to be uplifted as soon after flowering – once the foliage starts to yellow. Allow to dry for a couple of months, then remove any old leaves and stems and store in paper bags until planting time.
Deadheading the flowers immediately after they have bloomed will prevent precious energy being wasted on seed production – instead the energy goes back into the bulb. Don’t be tempted to bunch or tie the foliage as this reduces the bulbs ability to make enough energy for the following year.