How to Plant Bulbs
As the summer draws to a close, many gardener's start to look ahead to spring and the joy of the first flowers of the season starting to emerge. Spring bulbs are an essential part of any garden and have an amazing ability to lift people’s moods after the cold, wet and often uninspiring challenges of winter.
To enjoy a truly spectacular display each year it is worth considering a few important things before planting.
Fork the soil over well and mix in a slow-release fertiliser such as bone meal or fish blood and bone when planting bulbs. Especially on heavy soils, dig in horticultural grit and sand to prevent waterlogging, this can cause bulbs to rot.
September/October is the ideal time to plant Crocus, Lilies, Alliums and Hyacinths. Plant Tulips in November and more tender summer flowering bulbs like Gladioli in the spring. For the best spring display, plant Daffodils before the end of September.
When buying bulbs, reject any that are soft or showing signs of mould or discolouration. Ensure the outer scales are intact and not damaged or diseased. Large and firm bulbs will provide you with a good display of flowers. Small bulbs may not flower in their first year.
As a general rule, bulbs should be planted in holes around 3 times as deep as the bulb itself. Ensure they are planted at least their own width away from the next bulb.
Choose planting positions based on colour and flowering height to complement the surrounding area. Planting in groups of 6 or more is recommended for best effect. Bear in mind where the plants came from and what the natural environment for the particular bulb would be: For example Tulips originated in Turkey so will love a warm, sunny spot with excellent drainage.
In the Border
Use bulbs to add structure and height to a mixed border: Alliums, Gladioli, Eremurus, Fritillaria and Camassia are a few that work really well.
Mark the Spot
Be sure to mark where bulbs are planted with labels to prevent accidental lifting or damage when digging in future.
Bulbs in Pots
Bulbs in pots need good drainage so use plenty of broken crockery in the bottom of the pot and a layer of gravel. Bulb compost is readily available, or use a mixture of two parts John Innes No. 3 to one part horticultural grit: drainage is of utmost importance.
Consider using different types of bulbs in the same position/pot to elongate the period of flowering. For example, layer Daffodils, Tulips and Crocus in a pot at their required depths: this is called ‘triple planting’ and can be very effective. Try teaming these with pansies or violas for a long period of colour.
Many bulbs can be attractively naturalised as we do with many other flowers: varieties that are close to the original species are most suited for this purpose. Species Crocus or Narcissi Pheasant’s eye planted at random in a grass make a lovely natural effect. Planting in grass can be done in individual holes or fold back the turf to enable access to the soil.
Bulbs are a clever package containing all the nutrients and sugars required to flower, they can be quite tasty to squirrels or mice. Tulips can be affected by Tulip Fire – if so they must be removed and destroyed. Blindness (lack of flowering) in Daffodils can be caused by planting too close to the surface or the clump is producing lots of ‘bulblets’ and becoming overcrowded so need lifting and separating.
Lifting and Storage
After flowering, remove seed heads and wait for foliage to die back before lifting bulbs, clean and store them in boxes in a cool dry place to replant the following autumn. This applies to many but not all bulbs: Daffodils for example, can be left to overwinter in the ground. Be sure to leave the foliage until it dies off as this is taking in nutrients to store for the next flowering.