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Bulbs Facts and Questions... answered!

Spring Bulbs

There can be few lovelier sights to welcome the spring than drifts of crocus and daffodils, they herald a new beginning and lift our spirits after the winter gloom. Even the humble snowdrop, which defies the odds and flowers through the snow, is heartening. So plant some bulbs to ensure your garden, however small, looks wonderful in the spring.

Where to Grow?

Most bulbs will grow wherever there is space in the garden, if the soil is suitable. They are not too fussy as long as the drainage is good and the soil is reasonably deep. Bulbs are very versatile and can be planted in many situations:- Formal beds, informal plantings, troughs, tubs, window boxes, rock and scree gardens, in bowls for indoor display, lawns and woodlands where many species will naturalise. Daffodils, bluebells and aconites tolerate shade better than most other bulbs.

How and when to plant?

You should plant spring flowering bulbs between August and November, even into December if the weather is favourable. Daffodil varieties prefer a long growing season so plant early. Tulips prefer to wait until October/early November before being planted. This delays growth that may be nipped by hard frosts. Most other bulbs can go in whenever the ground is bare in the autumn.

As a rough guide bulbs should be planted with twice its depth of soil above it. In tubs and planters this is not so important and you can plant two tiers of bulbs to extend the flowering season, although care must be taken that some frost sensitive bulbs are not frozen in the depths of a very cold winter.

Container Planting

Bulbs are made for container growing and most are very successful, looking beautiful on a patio or by a doorway, whether a single variety or mixed. Any container will do as long as it is well drained, barrels, terracotta pots, old troughs and even hanging baskets, they need very little attention after planting. It is important to match the size and vigour of the bulb to the scale of the container, smaller bulbs are better in window boxes and small pots whereas large architectural bulbs need deeper pots. Bulbs can be used in association with other spring flowering plants such as winter flowering pansies, wall-flowers, heathers, polyanthus and forget-me-nots. When planning check the ultimate height and flowering dates of the bulbs. Generally shorter varieties are better for containers that are buffeted by winds. Dwarf tulips, miniature daffodils, bedding hyacinths perform well in containers. Choose scented varieties by a doorway such as hyacinths.

 

Indoor cultivation

There is nothing more cheering in mid-winter than bowls of bulbs to brighten your home and they are so easy to grow!

Hyacinths

Prepared Hyacinths need to be planted as soon as possible after purchase and then placed in the dark for 8-10 weeks at 9 C. Plant the bulb in bulb fibre so that the top of the bulb is showing, ideally plunge the planted bowl under 15cm of sharp sand or peat in a cold frame or somewhere cool outside, failing that place in a dark cupboard or in a garage or shed (not forgetting where you put the bowl of course!). When the shoots are approxiamately 5cm tall bring them out gradually to the warmth and light and water as necessary. Extend the flowering season by keeping the bulbs in a cool situation.

Daffodils

Paperwhite daffodils are gorgeous and very early, they can be planted straight away and brought into the house either planted in bulb fibre or just resting on pebbles. Amongst the others, the easiest varieties to grow indoors are Golden Harvest, Carlton, Fortune and Ice Follies, dwarf varieties include Tete a Tete, Jumblie, Hawera and Minnow. Bulbs potted in late September will flower in late January. Place a layer of compost into a pot and plant the bulbs firmly into this, cover with compost leaving the tips exposed and water. Place the pot in a cold frame or cover with a 15cm layer of sharp sand or peat and leave somewhere cold outside. After 12-14 weeks check and bring into the warmth gradually when shoots are about 8cm, water regularly. The daffodils will last longer if in an airy room out of full sun where the temperature does not exceed 18 C or 65 F.

Tulips

Treat the bulbs like hyacinths and you should have an early display. Best varieties include Brilliant Star, Flair, Peach Blossom and Electra. The Greigii and Kaufmanniana tulips do not respond well to forcing.

Crocus

Large flowering crocus kept in the dark for 12 weeks after planting will flower ahead of outdoor bulbs. Yellow does not respond to forcing. Early flowering species crocus will grow in shallow bowls, keep cool in an unheated greenhouse or porch until shoots are about 5-7cm high, then place in a cool windowsill to flower.

Amaryllis

Amaryllis are one of the easiest bulbs to bring into bloom and one of the most beautiful and dramatic. They come in a variety of colours red, salmon, white, pink and orange and also double ones too. Choose bulbs which feel firm, the larger the bulbs the more flowers they will produce. Place the bulb up to its neck in potting compost (avoid extra large pots) and firmly press down so the bulb is secure. Place the potted bulb in a warm place with direct light as heat is essential for the development of the stems (normal room temperature of 20C is ideal). Water sparingly until the stem appears. As the bud and leaves become visible the Amaryllis gradually needs more water. After that the stem will grow rapidly and once it has reached full growth flowers start to open.

 

Naturalizing Bulbs

When left undisturbed in suitable conditions many bulbs will increase readily by seed or offset to create natural drifts of colour. You can create this natural effect in very small areas under just one tree or a small patch of grass to prevent the whole garden becoming unruly. To create this effect it is better to use species, rather than cultivars.

 

Naturalizing under trees

Many bulbs thrive beneath deciduous trees and shrubs where often other plants can not grow. Once established winter Aconites look wonderful. Some bulbs prefer a cool,shaded site with slightly moist conditions when dormant so are successful in a woodland setting e.g. English bluebells, snowdrops and erythroniums. In dry shade under large trees or hedge bottoms Cyclamen coum can provide early spring colour before the tree canopy closes over. Cyclamen hederifolium flowers late summer and autumn, C.coum flowers later from December to February and C. cilicum has scented flowers.

 

Naturalizing in turf

When trying to naturalise bulbs you must make sure that you allow full development of the leaves, since the leaves provide the bulb's food store for next year's flower. Also you must allow the bulb to set seed before mowing the grass if you wish to increase your bulbs population. For early flowering bulbs the first cut should be late spring /early summer depending on local conditions. Snowdrops, crocus, narcissus and Fritillaria meleagris all look wonderful in a spring meadow, although it is often better to choose 1 or 2 varieties rather than lots that could overwhelm the more delicate blooms.

 

Miscellaneous bulbs

Alliums

There are many varieties of thes popular bulbs, they produce very architectural flower spikes and seed heads in varying heights and sizes. Plant the bulbs 3 times their depth of soil. Nectoscordum siculum does well in light shade.

 

Colchicums

These bulbs are often referred to as Autumn crocus and do indeed flower in the autumn. They must be planted straight away after purchase as they very quickly flower when subject to any warmth inside. They do best in an open, sunny site that is well drained. The leaves appear later in spring.

Anemone

A.blanda likes sun or partial shade and spreads quickly. A. De caen and A. St. Brigid groups are very showy, plant in rich soil in a warm part of the garden, these tubers are not very long lived and need to be replanted regularly. Anemone tubers need to be soaked in water for 24 hours prior to planting.

Muscari

Blue or white varieties of grape hyacinths are easily cultivated and are well suited to almost any garden soon spreading to colonize an area.

Iris

Reticulata types are small, pretty, low growing varieties which are ideal for planting in tubs or at the edge of a border. They flower in late winter to early spring.

Buying Bulbs

Harvesting bulbs is weather dependant and if wet the season will be slightly later. Spring flowering bulbs are usually available in the garden centres from mid -August. Bigger bulbs produce better flowers please be aware of this when comparing prices! All our fill-a-pot daffodils and loose hyacinths are a large size (16+ for most daffodil varieties and 18-19 for most of our loose hyacinths), which should produce successful results.


 

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