How to grow bulbs
Generally speaking, bulbs prefer a sunny spot in the garden, however, there are varieties which will tolerate light shade, especially when grown in warmer regions. If you have a shady spot that needs brightening up, plant snowdrops (Galanthus sp) or snowflakes (Leucojum sp).
Position your bulbs in the garden according to their height and colour. Taller varieties should be planted towards the rear of garden beds, with low-growing types towards the front. Plant them in generous groups for maximum impact. You can scatter bulbs through lawn areas, too – the traditional technique is to throw handfuls over the grass, then plant them where they land.
Bulbs need to be planted into free-draining soil, as they hate to be constantly wet (waterlogged soils can cause bulbs to rot) and will rot if they're constantly moist. Prepare the soil as you would for any other garden plant, turning it over and incorporating some compost to improve the texture, as well as a dressing of blood and bone. If your soil is poor in structure, consider creating a raised bed, filled with a good-quality garden mix, or else grow them in pots and tubs. The soil should be slightly acidic, so dig in organic fertiliser before planting.
How to plant
Plant bulbs in April for cool and cold regions and plant in May for warmer areas when the weather and soil have cooled down.
Check the packet instructions, but there are two traditional rules to follow when it comes to planting bulbs. Firstly, plant them at a depth equal to approximately twice their width. And secondly, plant with the pointy end up (except in the case of ranunculi and anemones, which are planted with the pointy end down).
You can either dig individual planting holes for each bulb using a narrow trowel or, if you’re creating a massed effect, dig one broad hole and lay them out before back-filling with soil. For planting bulbs in a lawn area, a bulb planter is a useful tool: these remove a small core of earth, so you can pop in the bulb, replace the grass and wait till they emerge.
How to care for your bulbs
Bulbs require very little attention and most are low-maintenance. After planting, water immediately and then you can just forget about them until the flower buds begin to appear. At this stage, the plants will benefit from feeding with a soluble fertiliser to boost the display.
After flowering, as the blooms start to fade, leave the plants to die down naturally. Bulbs reclaim nutrients from their foliage, which they use to produce next year’s flowers. While bulbs can be dug up and stored until next year, it’s generally best to buy new bulbs annually to ensure you get the best display. Those that remain in the garden will not be wasted – they’ll simply add to the overall effect.
In colder climates, you’re more likely to get multiple seasons from your tulips, hyacinths and daffodils than you are if you live in a mild coastal area.
How to grow your bulbs in pots
Bulbs grow well in pots, some easier than others, creating wonderful seasonal displays for balconies and verandahs and make for space-savers if you're short on garden space.The added advantage is you can move them around to follow the sun, or bring them indoors for a couple of days at a time.
Finding the right pot is important, terracotta is best for pots because its porous nature allows excess moisture to escape. Ensure they have good drainage holes. If you can, avoid dark plastic or metal containers as they can get too hot for the bulbs. Or move to a shady spot during the hottest part of the day.
Use good-quality potting mix that is free draining so the bulbs don’t rot from too much moisture. Keep your bulbs cool by putting pots in the shade until they start to grow, then bring them into the sun.
You can either opt for a one-flower look, or else create a mini potted garden in a large container, using several different bulb varieties. To achieve the latter, plant the bulbs in layers within the pot, according to their preferred planting depths. Ensure the container has drainage holes and always use a good-quality, free-draining potting mix.
Tips for growing bulbs
- Put the flat side of tulip bulbs against the pot side. The first leaves emerge from the flat side and they will drape over the edge, softening the pot.
- Layer your bulbs by putting taller ones in the pot first, adding more potting mix, then planting shorter flowering bulbs. Cover with more mix. If you have a big enough pot, add even more layers.
- Choose bulbs that are plump, firm and dry. If they’re soft to touch they may not produce any flowers.
- The bigger the bulb of a variety, the greater the chance of big, bold blooms.
- Cover your soil with organic mulch to help deter weeds.
- If your dog loves to dig, cover the bulbs with chicken wire until the leaves start to emerge.
- If you don’t like the effect of mass planting, go random by tossing your bulbs on the ground and then planting where they land.
- Theme your colours by planting burnt gold and deep burgundy tulips and scatterings of rich orange spring wallflowers – they should never be left alone on the shelf again!
Best bulbs for indoors
The best bulbs for indoor display are hyacinths, daffodils and tulips. You can grow hyacinths indoors in an hourglass-shaped vase so you can see the roots grow and shoots emerge. Here's how.
- Fill the bottom half with water and pop the bulb on the top of the vase, ensuring water is about 5mm below the bulb.
- Keep the jar in a dark cupboard for several weeks while the roots and shoots develop, then gradually bring it
into gentle then bright light, but not direct sunlight.
When cutting daffodils and tulips from your garden for indoors, choose buds that are about to open for a longer display. Fill clean vases to about a third or half with room-temperature water. Remove leaves that will sit in water. Keep out of direct sunlight and away from air conditioner or fan draughts. Replace water daily. Don’t place daffodils and tulips in the same vase because cut daffs emit a sap that prevents other flowers from taking up water.