Garden Bulbs, Corms and Tubers
It is still not too late to plant spring flowering bulbs. Spring flowering bulbs can be planted up to November and even into December if the weather is mild. There are many beautiful ones to choose from. Over time, bulbs have adapted themselves so that there is a one to suit most situations from shade, to sun, grassland to rock gardens and both indoor and outdoor containers. Plant them in the right place and they will reward you with spring time colour year after year with minimal attention and maintenance.
Hints on buying bulbs
Choose bulbs that are sound and not squishy. Check that the base is clean and showing no sign of rot. If you cannot plant immediately, open the bags and let the air into the bulbs. They are a living thing and need to be kept cool and dry. Do not store them near heaters as this can damage the embryonic flower bud inside and subsequently they will come up ‘blind’
Preparing the site for Bulbs
Firstly, fork over the entire area to break up any hard ‘pan’ so as to ensure free drainage. Ideally work some bone meal into the top 10 cm of soil at a rate of 50 – 100 grams per square meter. Forking in the food is not necessary for this year’s display as the bulb has an embryonic flower bud in it already and only needs a period of cold and moisture in order to trigger off growth next spring but necessary for the bulb to produce next year’s display.
General rule of thumb when planting bulbs is to plant them two and a half times the height of the bulb below the soil surface. To get the most out of your bulbs, plant them in groups approximately 5cm to 10 cm apart so as to ensure breathing space between bulbs.
Bulbs suitable for Shady Sites
Anemone nemorsa looks somewhat unpromising in their dried shrivelled forms resembling rather large raisins, but soak them in tepid water for 24 to 48 hours prior to planting and they will swell up. Best planted under deciduous trees.
Lily of the valley had a delicate scent and is great planted at the base of a shady wall or deciduous trees.
Narcissus ‘Thalia’ is a great white daffodil that will brighten up a dark corner of the garden. I also like the Narcissus cyclamineus cultivars like ‘Peeping Tom’ and ‘Tete a Tete’ these are smaller daffodils growing to approximately 15cm and in the case of N. ‘Tete a Tete’ multiply readily. They are also great for containers planted under winter flowering pansies or amongst shrubs that provide winter interest like Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’
Hardy cyclamen like Cyclamen coum can be a wonderful sight planted in quantity. Happy in semi-shade or full sun provided the site does not become too sun baked in summer. Once established they will seed themselves around. The flower head as it ripens begins to curl up into a spiral so as to pull the seeds closer to the soil which in turn will germinate to produce mini corms. At present in Garden centres you will find Cyclamen hederifolium growing in pots, although seemingly expensive, plant them in the right place and they will multiply over time. Some have very beautiful silvery foliage.
Other bulbs suitable for a shady site are snow drops and winter aconites but these are ideally planted when they are just dying down ‘in the green’ in the spring as they are prone to drying out if out of the ground too long.
Bulbs suitable for Sunny Sites
Anemone blanda, the ‘Grecian Windflower’ once settled will reward you year after year. Preferring an open position in the border or on a sunny grassy bank the starry white, blue and pink flowers will sparkle. The showiest of the Anemones but perhaps not the longest lived are the Anemone coronaria De Caen mixture which boast brilliant blues, reds and purples amongst their hues.
Crocus are adaptable and will grow in a variety of situations. However, squirrels can munch their way through a whole patch if you are not careful. To combat this they can be planted in fine chicken wire cages so as to inhibit their foraging. My favourites are the large flowered Dutch Crocus and some of the smaller Crocus chrysanthus cultivars.
Tulips love a sunny site as their bulbs love a good baking after flowering . They are generally best planted in late October or during November. If planted too early the new growth that is pushed on during warm weather which can be subsequently frost damaged. If planted in a clay soil they are best planted on a bed of grit.
Naturalising in Grass
Crocus can be naturalised in short grass and in particular Crocus tomasinianus will seed itself around. Coming in both white and mauve it looks great planted in a drift.
Narcissus are often naturalised in turf as they require little maintenance accept when they start to come up ‘blind’ This non-flowering can be caused by overcrowding. Lifting and replanting after once they have died down will remedy this. It may, however take a season to build up the bulb’s reserves before flowering again.
Garden centres often supply big nets of Narcissus for naturalising in turf and this can be a good way to obtain a great display. Many of the Narcissus are scented like the pheasant eye Narcissus poetaz, ‘Pheasant’
Bulbs foliage should be left to die down naturally at least 6 weeks after flowering before mowing otherwise next year’s display will be impaired. Although tying the foliage in bundles makes them look neater it does not help the natural dying down process.
Best for all round Resilience
Perhaps the humble daffodil is the most resilient of bulbs. As it is toxic to eat, rabbits, deer and squirrels avoid them. There is a cultivar to suit every situation.
Bulbs for containers Outside
On the whole the shorter bulbs are ideal for containers unless the container is well out of the wind. Normally the height of the bulb is clearly indicated on the label. Good bulbs for containers are Crocus, Narcissus triandrus and N. cyclamineus cvs that grow to about 10 to 25 cm in height, grape hyacinth, Chionodoxa, Scilla and some of the smaller growing tulips like the single early flowering ones growing to approximately 15cm – 20 cm, T. kaufmanniana growing to 15 cm – 30cm tall, T. greiggii growing 20cm – 30cm in height. Plant in a loam based compost and during dry periods ensure that they are well watered. Traditionally wallflowers were planted with tulips but there are a plethora of other plants that can add interest to your containers at this time of year like heathers, Hebes, Heucheras, different ivies, pansies, Skimmias, Gaultherias, Pernettyas, Ajuga and Acorus to name but a few. Although some of these are acid loving for a temporary planting in a pot they will not mind too much but they will not withstand these conditions long term. The bulbs prolong the season of interest if planted around the edges containers.
Bulbs for Containers Inside
Plant prepared hyacinths now. ‘Prepared’ means that the bulbs have been cold treated so that when they are planted, they think that winter has already passed and subsequently begin to grow as soon as they are planted . They can be planted in soil, compost, bulb fibre, gravel or placed with their bottom disk just above water and away the go. They need to be put in a cold, dark place for eight to ten weeks to encourage good root formation, without which they will not succeed. Check on the bulbs from time to time and once the bulb shoots are about 3cm high, root growth is sufficiently strong for the bowls or hyacinth glass jars to be brought inside. Crocus and Tulips can also be treated in this way. They need to be kept moist throughout, but the compost must not be sodden.
Another favourite for growing inside are the delicately scented tender Narcissus tazetta cvs. like the Paperwhites, or N.‘Soleil d’Or’. As I mentioned before, the great thing about bulbs is that the bulb already has an embryonic flower bud inside so does not need any further feed to produce a flower. It does however, need water and somewhere to anchor its roots - this could be soil or a pile of shells ( with salt water washed off), gravel or anything else for that matter. Later they might need some twigs around the edge to provide extra support. They can be planted close together with their necks poking out. However if they are grown in this way they will not produce a flower next year as they will be worn out so are best discarded. Ideally, they should be put in a cool dark place will happily grow away producing a show of flowers in approximately 4 to 6 weeks. If you find that they are becoming too lanky, then put them in a cooler room to encourage a stockier plant.
Reasons why bulbs may fail are insufficient time rooting whilst kept in the dark which will cause stunted growth. Leaves turning yellow can be caused by draught. Lack of moisture at roots which may result in dead blooms on the flower spike, stunted flower stems shorter leaves, or dead foliage.
Amaryllis or Hippeastrum hybrida
Often one gets given one of these huge bulbs and wonders what to do with it. It is a plant that actually benefits from a small pot for if the roots are given plenty of room then the hippeastrum will grow plenty of leaves but will be reluctant to flower. Yet when their roots are cramped their instinct is to flower. Hippeastrum need a period of rest to flower in successive years. Normally after flowering let the plant die back in late August and store in a warm, dry place replanting and resuming watering in January.