The magic starts to happen the moment you plant them in cool, moist soil. First come the roots, then as autumn glides into winter the cooling soil triggers changes inside the bulb. The leaves start to expand and push through the soil toward the sun. A few weeks later, the first flower buds begin to rise. You watch them grow bigger and fatter, then – one fine, cool morning – you’re greeted by your first flower. It’s what you’ve been waiting for since autumn and it’s just the start of a weeks-long display, as one type of bulb after another bursts into bloom.
How do I grow them?
In a word, easily! Bulbs are primed to flower when you plant them. A common mistake is to plant cool-climate bulbs too early, when the soil is still too warm.
Spring-flowering bulbs like to be planted in autumn in cool soil. If you have frosts in April, plant near the end of March. In frost-free areas, delay planting until late April or May. You can order your bulbs now, to get the best quality and choice, then store in a dark, cool and airy place. Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, bluebells and grape hyacinths like to be chilled so, in warmer areas, store in the fridge for 4-6 weeks before planting.
Most flowering bulbs need plenty of sun to do well, but this doesn’t mean baking! Under deciduous trees suits well, or anywhere receiving at least four hours of direct sun a day.
Average garden soil, which drains freely, is all bulbs need. If soil is too sandy and dry, mix compost or rotted cow manure through it a few weeks before planting. If it’s heavy and clayey, build up a raised bed with brought-in soil or grow bulbs in pots.
After planting, but before watering, sprinkle a ration of controlled-release fertiliser over the soil and cover lightly with more soil. As soon as flowering finishes, water the leaves of the plants with soluble fertiliser.
Keep the soil lightly moist. If you get regular rain in autumn and winter, you may not need to water at all.
Snap off developing seed pods, but leave the flower stem, as the bulb needs the nutrients in the stem. Let leaves go yellow before cutting away.