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It’s not too late to plant spring-flowering bulbs for early season colour

Although most gardeners will tell you that the best time to plant spring flowering bulbs is early autumn; the good news is it’s still not too late. The reason for this is principally because up until last weekend’s cold snap, the temperatures this autumn have been unusually mild. So, if you’re looking forward to daffodils, tulips and snowdrops this spring and you haven’t yet manged to get your bulbs potted up or planted out, Ladybrook Nursery’s best advice is to get it done now whilst there’s still time and whilst the soil is still warm enough.

What’s the appeal of spring-flowering bulbs? Well, they add much-needed colour in what would otherwise be a dull and drab garden in the early growing season. They’re bright and cheerful and can lift the spirits after the harshness of the winter months. If you get the planting right, the swathes of colour you’ll be rewarded with if you plant tulips, daffodils, crocuses, snowdrops and scillas will brighten up even the shortest days of early spring.

Where should you plant your bulbs, and how deep should you plant them for maximum effect?

Here are Ladybrook Nursery’s top tips for planting spring-flowering bulbs.

Where to plant bulbs

Most hardy bulbs like tulips and daffodils prefer a warm, sunny site with good drainage as they originate from areas with dry summer climates. It’s in their DNA. However, bulbs from cool, moist, woodland habitats like cardiocrinum, will also thrive in similar garden conditions. To give bubs the best start, 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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