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It may be November, but there’s still time to plant spring-flowering bulbs if you’re quick off the mark

If you think you’ve missed the boat because you forgot to plant those spring-flowering bulbs early enough, then think again. Yes, it may now be November, but because the weather has been unseasonably mild, it’s still not too late to get planting so that you’ll have a fine display of daffodils, snow drops and tulips in spring.

Why plant spring bulbs? Well, simply because they add a splash of colour in early spring, when the rest of the garden colours can look rather muted. Tulips come in a range of shades, from dark purple to white, and will flower profusely, if planted correctly. Similarly other bulbs, like snowdrops and scillas, offer early spring-flowering interest in the garden and will brighten up even the shortest days of early spring.

The only questions that remain are where should you plant your bulbs, and how deep should you plant them for maximum effect? Well, here are Ladybrook Nursery’s top tips for planting spring and summer-flowering bulbs.

Where to plant bulbs

Most hardy bulbs, like tulips and daffodils, prefer a warm, sunny site with good drainage as they come from areas with dry summer climates. Bulbs from cool, moist, woodland habitats, such as cardiocrinum, need similar garden conditions. Improve light or sandy soils with garden compost and heavy soils with compost plus grit

How to plant bulbs

Most bulbs are acquired and planted when dry, in a dormant, leafless, rootless state. Plant bulbs as soon as possible. They may flower poorly following later than recommended planting or after lengthy storage, but as the weather has been mild it may still be possible to plant now and still get spring flowers.

Planting in borders

Aim to plant in groups of at least six, as planted bulbs grouped together, generally provide the better displays. If your garden is large, then try planting 25 to 50 bulbs together to create an impressive floral display.

Planting bulbs

This planting method applies to all spring, summer and autumn-flowering bulbs:

  • Dig a hole wide and deep enough for your bulbs. Work out the planting depth by roughly measuring the bulb from base to tip and doubling or tripling this length – this figure is the rough planting depth. For example, a 5cm (2in) high bulb should be 10-15cm (4-6in) below soil level
  •  Place the bulbs in the hole with their ‘nose’, or shoot, facing upwards. Space them at least twice the bulb’s own width apart
  • Replace the soil and gently firm with the back of a rake. Avoid treading on the soil as this can damage the bulbs
  • Some bulbs, such as winter aconites, bluebells and snowdrops, are thought to be best planted, moved or divided ‘in the green’, when flowering is over but they are still in leaf. However, dried bulbs are often offered and can be successful.

Planting in containers

Whilst most bulbs are ideal for growing in containers, container-grown plants are especially suitable for bulbs with large, showy flowers, such as tulips, lilies, arum lilies and alliums.

Planting container bulbs

  • For bulbs that are only going to spend one season in their container, use a mix of three parts multi-purpose compost with one part grit. For long-term container displays, use three parts John Innes No 2 compost mixed with one part grit
  • Plant at three times their depth and one bulb width apart
  • Water bulbs regularly when in active growth, but you can reduce watering once the leaves start to die down and then through the dormant season. However, continue to check pots in winter, ensuring they do not dry out completely
  • To promote good flowering next year, feed the bulbs every seven to ten days with a high- potassium fertiliser such as a liquid tomato feed. Begin feeding as soon as shoots appear, and stop feeding once the foliage starts to die down at the end of the season
  • If you bring pots of hardy bulbs indoors during flowering, put them in a sheltered spot outside as soon as flowering is over

Problems

There aren’t many problems to watch out for, other than checking that the bulbs are healthy to start with. If any bulbs are soft or show signs of rot, then disregard them. Pests can be a problem, however, so keep an eye out for slugs, snails, squirrels (particularly with crocuses and tulips) and diseases like daffodil viruses, grey mould in snowdrops, narcissus basal rot, tulip fire and tulip viruses.

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