April and May is the best time to buy and plant your spring flowering bulbs. Daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, ranunculus and freesias are only a few of the large range available. Most bulbs are dug up, packaged and sold when they are dormant. They are usually graded and sorted, checked by hand, counted and packaged. Some bulb companies package seconds and some package premium bulbs so in effect you get the quality you pay for.
There are a few things to look out for when selecting bulbs, and just by physically picking one up and feeling it can tell you a lot about its quality. Bulbs should be full and firm, not soft or dry and withered. If it feels light then it is possible that it is dry and dead inside. If the bulb is soft it is often a sign of fungal disease. Avoid any bulb that is diseased or physically damaged or has a bad smell. The outer skin of tulips is quite important because it helps to prevent dehydration and damage and should be intact. Bulbs need to be a reasonable size to flower in their first year. Some bulbs, like daffodils, will sometimes have a smaller bulb attached, but these will probably only flower in the second year. The supplier will pick up most problems with bulbs when they are packaging and sorting so you receive good quality.
Bulbs can look deceptively delicate, but most are surprisingly hardy and easy to grow. They can be planted in multiples or randomly, to achieve a natural look. Scattering the bulbs, and planting them where they fall can create wonderful natural drifts. These may look sparse in the first season, but they will get better each year as they get a chance to spread, expanding into dense clumps. Bulbs can be planted effectively together with perennials, disguising the bush as the foliage is dying down, while the bulbs supply ongoing colour.
Most bulbs prefer an open sunny position or light shade, and in fact many will flower poorly if they don’t receive enough natural light. In warmer climates many will tolerate a little more shade. Most bulbs like very good drainage. If you have heavy or poorly drained soil try growing them in raised beds or pots. As a general rule, bulbs can be planted twice as deeply as they are high, and about the same distance apart. Bulbs are usually planted with the pointy end upwards, except ranunculus which are planted claw downwards. If you are unsure, just ask at your local specialist nursery when you buy your bulbs. Most bulbs need very little attention except a complete bulb fertiliser at planting time, and then again when they have finished flowering. As tempting as it is to cut of the dying foliage – don’t. The foliage helps to provide the energy for next years’ flower.
Tips for Growing Bulbs
1. For A Natural Effect: Bulbs look best in clumps or drifts. To get a natural looking effect, either dig a large area and plant several bulbs at once or simply toss the bulbs into the air and dig holes and plant where ever they fall. You’ll be surprised how well this works.
2. Mark Your Plantings: To make sure you don’t disturb your bulbs by trying to plant something in the same spot, mark where and what you have planted.
3. Fertilize with a complete fertiliser at planting time, and then again when they have finished flowering
4. After Care: When your bulbs have finished flowering, cut back the flower stalks to ground level. Even though it can look a bit ugly, let the foliage of your flowering bulbs dieback naturally. Resist the temptation to cut the leaves back while there’s any sign of green. The bulb needs this time to photosynthesize and make food reserves to produce next year’s flowers.
5. To Divide Bulbs: Many bulbs spread and increase, making the original planting over crowded. If your bulbs aren’t flowering as well as they used to, this is probably the case. If you wish to move or divide your flowering bulbs, the safest time is when they enter their dormant period. This is usually just after the foliage completely dies back. Dormancy is brief, even though nothing is happening above ground, so don’t put this task off.
It is important to remember that if you want to plant tulips, the winters sometimes don’t get cold enough to initiate flowering, so they need to be given a short time in the fridge before planting. Between 4 and 8 weeks are usually enough, and somewhere like the crisper is ideal. It is amazing to think that these small dull, lifeless packages will burst into spring magnificence.
So there you have it – the basics for incorporating some beautiful spring flowering bulbs in your garden to compliment your chosen garden style.