It’s bulb-planting time and there are hundreds of different types and varieties of spring flowering bulbs to transform your garden.
Whether you are starting out with a window box or a planter by the front door, there is one purchase this autumn that is guaranteed to create a wonderful display in the spring. Bulbs. The garden centres and mail order catalogues are just full of them and it’s like a pick ‘n’ mix display tempting you to part with your cash. You might even see some on offer on QVC. The good news is that for the price of a pint or a bottle of wine you can buy a pack or two of bulbs that will create weeks of spring colour in your garden and come back and flower again year after year. Wow, great value eh?
If you are new to gardening, then keep it simple, choose a pack that includes one type of bulb, say tulips. Look out for colour contrasting selections that offer two or three colour co-ordinated varieties chosen to not only look good together but to flower at the same time with great effect. That makes life much easier and you don’t have to understand all the different types and flowering times because the bulb experts have done it for you.
Some packs contain a mixture of bulbs designed for layering or lasagne planting. Simply choose the pack that lights up your day, read the instructions for planting and make sure you have a suitable container for planting. Ideally you should use a quality bulb planting compost but a quality multi-purpose compost would also be perfectly ok.
There are a few things to take into consideration when planting bulbs. First they need good drainage, so make sure the planter that you have chosen has good drainage holes. When it rains the excess water needs to be able to escape from the container – leaving bulbs in waterlogged soil is a recipe for disaster. Prop the pot up onto pot feet or bricks to allow water to drain from the holes at the base of your planter.
Spread them out
When you plant your bulbs they need to rest on a generous layer of compost, fill your pot about half full and then arrange the bulbs on the surface with the pointy end up and for tulips with the bellies in – look closely and you will see that most tulip bulbs have a flatter side and a rounded, belly side. Plant them bellies facing to the centre of your planter for a balanced display. Spread them all out. Don’t let the bulbs touch, they need space between them.
Treat them mean
Don’t keep your planted container indoors unless you are trying to force the bulbs to flower earlier and even then they need a cold spell outside. For best results place your container against a wall, but not out of the rain and allow the bulbs to form roots and start to grow outside in the garden. If you do want to force them then bring them into a cool place, such as an unheated greenhouse or coldframe for a couple of weeks when you can see the leaves appearing.
So here’s the trick. Once you’ve got the hang of growing bulbs you can step up a pace and be a bit more adventurous. Suppose you would like a few months of colour out of one container? Well you can, if you plant it up like a lasagne. Basically it means planting in layers so that you plant the larger bulbs like big parrot tulips and daffodils that will have taller flowers further down in the pot. Spread them out and cover them with a layer of compost and then plant the middle-sized bulbs such as hyacinths and shorter tulips in the next layer, spreading them out so they are not directly above a bulb below. Then cover with more compost and plant some dwarf bulbs like crocus and grape hyacinths into the top layer, infilling with compost. The bulbs will all form roots inside the planter and throw up flowers to give a continuous display from early to late spring.