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Bulbs! Bulbs! Bulbs!

If you’re worried about planting your bulbs at the wrong time of year, not really sure what to do or you’re just looking for some advice, we have all the tips for you to get started.

As a general rule, bulbs prefer a light, well drained soil to be planted in, so avoid wet, heavy soils. If this is the case in your garden, do not panic! Lots of bulbs can easily be planted in pots and containers instead. Bulbs aren’t like seeds and they won’t survive out of the ground for very long. If you missed planting your bulbs at the optimal time, do not wait until the next season, take your chances and plant them anyway! (Even if in January or February)

Spring Flowering Bulbs

Early winter is the best time for your spring-flowering bulbs to be planted, such as Tulips, Daffodils, Crocuses and Hyacinths. Tulips and daffodils in particular take a while to flower. Planting them early gives them a long period of cool temperatures, enabling the biochemical process to spark which causes them to bloom in Spring. Many spring-flowering bulbs can be planted as early as September and as late as December. If they are planted late, they may still perform perfectly well as-long as it’s before any frost. Once they start producing roots, they are quite frost tolerant. They’re pretty tough so a short freeze will not damage young bulb shoots and buds, but it may ‘burn’ already open blossoms.

Summer Flowering Bulbs

“Summer bulbs” grow and flower during the summer months, as opposed to spring and autumn blooming bulbs. They can become available from early February through to April time, such as Begonias, Dahlias, Gladiolus and Freesia. These bulbs tend to be perennials that can’t survive the cold. They are either grown as annuals, or dug up, stored and then replanted every year. If you’re potting them, do it as early as possible to give them the best start. Make sure all heavy frost has passed before moving them outdoors so in the meantime, it’s a good idea to keep them in a cold frame / greenhouse. In spring when the soil is beginning to warm up, plant Alliums, Agapanthus and Cannas. If the soil is too cold, the bulbs may rot and not begin to grow so the ideal soil temperature is 13°C.

General Advice

  • Mushy or really soft bulbs are best to avoid. They may have mould growing on the also so most likely wont make it if you attempt to plant them.
  • Take the chance! The bulbs are better off in the ground or in a pot than being stored elsewhere wasting away. If the ground isn’t frozen, dig your soil and get planting.
  • A good option if the ground is still frozen is to plant the bulbs indoors as forced bulbs, especially if they are still firm and plump.
  • Take photographs so you know exactly where you planted your bulbs and you can track their progress.
  • Applying fertiliser – Slow release bulb fertilisers can be used in autumn for goof root growth. Or you can use an all-purpose, balanced fertiliser when growth begins in spring. Fertiliser is not essential, but can be beneficial.
  • It is occasionally advised that you soak certain bulbs before planting. Soaking allows suitable bulbs to absorb enough water to begin growth immediately. This moisturising method works with “tunicate” type bulbs (neatly enclosed round or teardrop shaped) It is not suitable for bulbs with loose, fleshy scales such a Lily bulbs. This is helpful in northern climates, where early winters can limit you to the time you have.

Tips for Preparing Beds & Planting

The first thing you need to do is prepare your soil and luckily, this is very straight forward. Clear your chosen area of any weeds or debris. Using a spade or a fork, you need to work the area over, making sure the soil is really loose, to a depth of around 30cm. It’s best for your soil to not be too wet; it should be have good moisture retention, but also drain well. A handful of horticultural grit directly beneath the bulbs will aid drainage. You don’t necessarily need tools to do this, but using a small trowel or a bulb planter will help planting bulbs individually or in small groups.

Knowing which way up to plant the bulbs is usually really obvious. The base of the bulb is flat and ideally you can see the roots. The top of the bulb is pointed with a growing tip. Occasionally, it can be a little harder to tell, so if in doubt, just plant the bulbs on their sides and they will be fine. A general rule for how deep you should plant the bulbs is two or three times their own length, so if a bulb is 5cm long, then you should plant the bulb between 10 and 15cm beneath the surface of the soil. There are a couple of exceptions to this however, for example Cyclamen and Begonia’s like to be planted just below the surface.

The distance between the bulbs usually depends on the size of the flower but they should be far enough apart so they do not touch. Some bulbs are fine being planted just an inch or two apart, as when they are grown in small groups, this can make a better display when they bloom. Others look better scattered more naturally.

Simple step-by-step instructions for planting the bulbs

  1. Prepare the bed – Dig out the soil to the planting depth you require.
  2. Condition the soil – Loosen the soil for another 4-6 inches. Add fertiliser now if you wish.
  3. Plant your bulbs to the depth suggested and the correct way up.
  4. Cover with soil and mulch.

Published February 21st, 2019 by Grace Brown. Article ref 5332

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