Spring bulb planting season
Autumn is now well and truly upon us and for many gardeners, this means it’s time to start planting bulbs for spring.
Many types of bulb are ripe for planting in September and October, just before the temperature starts to cool and the ground is still soft and malleable. One of the most rewarding aspects of planting spring bulbs, is seeing the beautiful flowers majestically sprouting from the ground to mark the start of spring. It’s a great example of how hard work and patience in the garden can pay off in such a magnificent way. To help you prepare your own spectacular spring display, here are my tips for planting bulbs in autumn.
There are many different species of bulb that can be planted now and this includes Allium, Narcissus (daffodils), Crocus, Tulipa (tulip) and Hyacinthus (hyacinth) to name but a few. Your local garden centre likely has a huge section devoted to bulbs right now—and they’ll be available to buy either separately or as mixed bags. So, go and have a gander and see what gems you can pick up.
When choosing spring bulbs to plant, it’s best to find out which ones prefer the soil type andconditions in your garden, in addition to thinking about which colours you’d like to see when they bloom. Many avid gardeners prefer to plant bulbs in sections of colour, to increase the impact of each shade, yet others will mix them to create a spectacular kaleidoscope of colour in every area of the garden. Whether you’re planting dwarf Narcissus or the impressive flower stalks of Hyacinthus, it is best to plant in large batches so that flowers don’t get lost amid background foliage. Generally, you’ll want at least 12 bulbs planted in a single clump together to ensure they get noticed when they pop up at the beginning of next year.
Another question to ask yourself is whether you’d like to plant bulbs in pots. Lots of bulbs do excellently in containers—I’ve just planted up a window box full of spritely Tulipa and left them in a sunny spot in my garden until they’re ready to flower and take up pride of place on my windowsill. Another great thing to do is to plant in pots that you can bring inside once they’re in flower for a bit of early indoor colour. I love doing this with Narcissus, whose flowers are such a jolly sight indoors on crisp spring days. If you’re in love with idea of flowering plants at Christmas, there are even bulbs you can buy now which you can ‘force’ to flower just as the kids are opening their presents. Check out my blog Forcing bulbs for Christmas for more on this.
Once you’ve chosen your bulbs, you can begin planting. Planting bulbs at the end of September and early in October will allow the maximum amount of growing time before spring. It’s usually best to wear gloves when planting bulbs as some varieties can irritate your skin. If you are handling many irritant bulbs, wearing a face mask to protect against irritant dust is also good practice. If your garden soil is not free‐draining, you might choose to plant directly into specialist bulb compost. This has the right balance of nutrients along with good drainage, which helps to ensure that bulbs don’t rot. It is freely available in garden centres and even in garden sections of supermarkets and other retailers these days. So, don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s going to be
hard to find!
Begin by preparing the soil. This can be done using a fork, spade or a cultivator to turn over the soil
so that it is not too compact and is sufficiently aerated. Alternatively, dig a hole and fill with bulb compost. Dig deep enough to plants bulbs at two to three times their own depth (review the packet of bulbs for the exact depth for each variety). Next, use a soil rake to create an even surface on which you can begin planting. Some bulbs, such as Begonias, should be grown indoors at first and transplanted outside once they have had a chance to begin growing. This is because they need to be planted closer to the surface than many other types of bulb and will need to be sheltered from the elements in their early growing stage.
You can make an indentation for your bulbs using a small trowel or, for real ease, by using specific bulb planting tools, such as a widger or small bulb planter. These are brilliant tools when it comes to quickly planting different sized bulbs. Make a small hole at the required depth for your bulbs. Bulb depth is important as a bulb that is planted too deep will struggle to sprout and a bulb that is too shallow will have weak roots, so take care here. Once you have a suitable hole for each bulb, place the bulb inside. Most bulbs should be planted with the point facing upwards, as this will help the shoots to break through the ground more easily. Once the bulb is in the hole, cover it with earth or compost and water gently.
A good idea is to mark the position of the bulbs in some way. Otherwise, you might accidently dig them up, or worse, dump a big mound of compost on top!
The Waiting Game
Now you simply play the waiting game while the bulbs steadily swell underground before they burst through the earth in the new year. To ensure a great set of flowers when the time comes, it is important to keep them watered, especially during dry spells. Because they are buried they shouldn’t suffer in the case of frost or snow, but make sure to keep an eye on them in the event of extreme weather. Some types of bulb will benefit from having a feed or fertiliser applied to them during the growing season. This is because they will be hungry for nutrients that the soil may not be able to provide. Check the details for the variety of bulbs that you have planted to be sure that you are meeting their needs.
After many months of anticipation, the bulbs will have spread their roots and grown beneath the soil. The shoots should begin to appear towards the end of February before bursting out into beautiful flowers in March and April. So now you can enjoy all the hard work of the year before and bask in the glory of your delightful spring bulbs.
For more answers to common questions, see my blog Flowering bulbs FAQs or check out my Complete Guide to Seeds and Bulbs for more advice on creating incredible flower displays.
Have bulb planting!