Spring-flowering bulbs need to be planted during autumn and, together with spring bedding, they make a colourful early display.
Bulbs (underground storage organs) require very little care, many can simply be planted in autumn allowing you to sit back and wait to enjoy the rewards in early spring year after year!
You might come across the terms ‘corms’, ‘tubers’ and ‘rhizomes’ as well. They are all words given to underground storage organs of different plant varieties, but they behave more or less like bulbs.
Autumn is the time to think about planting bulbs. They will start to flower next spring and cheer up our gardens from early spring into summer. Whether you choose traditional favourite bulbs such as daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, and crocuses, or more unusual bulbs such as jewel-like chionodoxa, you won’t be disappointed; they’re cheery, colourful and reliable.
When you are planting in a container or in open ground, aim to plant at a depth 3 times the height of the bulb or, if a long flattish tuber, 3 times the height when laid flat.
Planting in open soil
Bulbs prefer free-draining soil. Digging about a week before planting and adding some coarse sand or grit will aid drainage if soil is heavy or compacted.
Rake some fish, blood and bone or dried/pelleted chicken manure into the surface of the soil before planting.
Dig a hole to the correct depth for the variety of bulb. (3 times the height of the bulb as a general rule of thumb.)
Loosen the soil in the base of the hole, if it is heavy clay add a cushioning layer of coarse sand or grit to the bottom, and place the bulb on top.
Ensure the bulb is the right way up. Mix the soil with some compost and backfill the hole, firming the soil gently to ensure there are no air pockets.
Creating a natural drift
For a natural look, why not plant some daffodils or snowdrops to emerge from a bit of your lawn. Before planting the bulbs scatter them onto the lawn to see where they land. By scattering the bulbs you’ll create a more natural-looking effect, than if you were to position the bulbs one by one.
Planting in containers
Planting in containers allows you to extend the flowering area of your garden, and allows you to grow flowers on a balcony, if indeed you don’t have a garden. You can create lovely displays by growing bulbs in a collection of containers all grouped together.
When planting, ensure the container has good drainage holes. Place broken crocks or polystyrene in the base of the pot but make sure you don’t block the drainage holes. Crocks positioned randomly within the container soil will further aid drainage. Be aware of sharp edges though and wear gloves when emptying the soil at a later date.
Half fill with compost and place bulbs on top.
Cover bulbs, firm compost gently, and water well. Label with date and variety to keep track.
Season-long container displays
If you want to add floral interest in autumn and winter while you’re waiting for the spring-flowering bulbs to come up, plant colour-coordinating pansies and violas. You’re spoilt for choice now on the colour ranges. Plant with bellis, primroses and decorative ivy to cheer you up in the winter months.
If you want a spring to summer season long display plant a number of bulbs in one container so that the flowers come up in stages.Plant snowdrops and aconites for February, followed by narcissi for March, daffodils for April and tulips for May. Layer like a lasagne! Place tulips bulbs on the bottom layer. Cover with compost. Follow with a layer of daffodils bulbs. Repeat. You can furnish the final layer with small bulbs like narcissi, snowdrops, chionodoxa and grape hyacinths.
Place a layer of decorative stones on top of the container, to create an attractive finish. Slugs are less likely to cross a sea of stones than they are bare soil. An added bonus.
Bulb spacings table and variety information
After your bulbs have finished flowering it's tempting to cut the leaves back to neaten the area. However it's best not to do this. As long as the leaves are still green they should be left intact as they will be providing energy to the bulb so that it can grow back next year. Once the leaves have turned yellow they can be cut down to the base.
If you wish to relocate your bulbs, this is best done just after the flowers have finished and while the leaves are still green. If lifting bulbs to store, keep them in a light, dry, frost and draft free place to plant again the following autumn.