Bulbs can bloom anytime between late August and early November, so choose a range from early jonquils to late blooming iris and the glorious colour will go on and on! Autumn is the best time to get bulbs in the ground so they enjoy a full growing season, including the chill of winter. Don’t worry if you haven’t grown them before, follow these eight tips and you’ll be well on your way to creating an amazing display!
Tip 1: Start in autumn
Bulbs should be planted in autumn, so it’s best to order them now. They’ll have enough time to settle into the garden and acclimatise, ready to sprout when the warmer weather arrives come spring.
Tip 2: Fake the freeze
Some bulbs need very low temperatures to stimulate flowering. When growing these varieties in not-so-chilly areas, fake it using the fridge. This is usually only recommended for tulips and hyacinths, but if you live in a subtropical climate, try it with all your bulbs. Put the bulbs in a paper bag or an egg carton and place in the crisper section of the fridge for a few weeks prior to planting. Alternatively, choose bulbs that thrive in warmer climates, such as freesia, sparaxis, babiana and snowdrop.
Tip 3: Plant with care
Plant with care. Most bulbs have a pointy end (which is the top) and a rounded end with the remnants of a few roots still attached (which is the base). Bulbs should be planted in a hole about three times deeper than the bulb’s width. It’s a good idea to dig down just a little deeper and then backfill with soil. This helps the developing roots grow into the soil below. Place the bulb in the hole, with the top facing upward, then backfill with soil, pressing down firmly. Of course, there is an exception to the rule: corms (like ranunculus and anemones) should be planted with the pointy ends facing downwards. Mark your planting area with a stake to make sure you don’t accidently dig them up between now and spring.
Tip 4: Fertilise for flowers
Bulbs don’t need a lot of care, but if you want to get the best out of them, a little added fertiliser will give them a boost. Apply a controlled-release fertiliser when the first leaves appear, for gradual feeding through the season. Later, when the flower buds appear, apply a liquid fertiliser formulated for flowering plants. Just mix with water in a watering can and apply fortnightly to promote brilliant blooming.
Tip 5: Be waterwise
Bulbs don’t need any additional water while they’re dormant – natural rainfall is enough. But when their foliage appears and the weather warms, you’ll need to water them about twice a week or more often if they’re planted in pots or when the weather is unusually warm. Be sure to water the soil and not the flower buds to prevent damage to the developing blooms.
Tip 6: Let them lie
Let them lie While it can be hard to let nature run her (sometimes messy) course, bulbs need to reclaim nutrients from their dying leaves at the end of the growing season. So let the leaves brown and die back before you cut them off. At this time, you may also decide to lift out the bulbs and store them in the shed until next autumn, or leave them in situ for the following spring.
Tip 7: Plan your display
When planting bulbs in the garden, it’s important to group them. A single flower will have very little impact, whereas a group will support each other, both physically and visually. Try planting them in a teardrop configuration to up the wow factor. Consider the colours in your springtime garden, and try to buy bulbs to complement what you already have. For instance, red tulips will look striking, but if the rest of your garden is pastel tones, it’s best to go for sympathetic shades of pink, lemon or cream to achieve a more harmonious effect. In warmer climates, bold reds, oranges and yellows match the vibrancy of tropical flowers, helping to lift the entire garden from the ground up.
Tip 8: Pot for perfection
Bulbs grow brilliantly in containers because they don’t need a lot of space or soil to thrive. Choose a premium potting mix or a special bulbgrowing mix, as these contain everything bulbs need to keep thriving for up to six months. In small pots, plant them as monocultures (just one variety in each pot) for maximum impact. In large pots, plant in groups from the centre out, with taller bulbs in the middle, graduating to the shortest bulbs around the edge. Remember when combining different bulb varieties, it’s important they all bloom at around the same time for the best results – always check the plant label, or ask at your local nursery for advice regarding flowering time.