Few flowers fill the soul with that feeling of springtime elation quite like bulbs.
Glowing yellow daffodils, pastel hyacinths, vibrant tulips, delicate freesias – the list goes on and on. While the flowers bloom in spring, the preparation starts now, during the autumn months, when bulbs need to be planted. So read on for your essential growing guide, then check out our Bulb Offer, where you’ll find all your favourite varieties.
Go for blocks of single colours or try a fabulous mixed collection – it’s time to get planting!
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 (see 10
Top Bulbs for Shade box).
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.
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.
Caring for your bulbs
Bulbs require very little attention. After planting, 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.
Bulbs need to be planted into free-draining soil, as they hate to be constantly wet (waterlogged soils can cause bulbs to rot). 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.
Bulbs in containers
Bulbs grow well in pots, creating wonderful seasonal displays for balconies and verandahs. 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.