Bulbs are like your favourite pieces of jewellery; they punctuate and complete a look and they twinkle like stars in the night sky. They add a magical charm few other plants can replicate. Spring is the main season that showcases flowering bulbs, and to ensure you have plenty of flower power then it’s vital to start planning and planting bulbs now.
Can the world ever have too much beauty? I don’t think so. Leading Dunedin garden designer and plant expert, Sally Brown agrees. She says you can never have too many bulbs. Four years ago, Sally ambitiously decided she wanted to have flowering tulips for her garden at the Ellerslie International Flower Show. Being an autumn show this proposed a challenge. With the expert help from Fiesta Bulbs, tulips were chilled in a cooler and planted out later, thus triggering the all-important out-of-season autumn flowering. The delightful lolly-pink tulips captivated the public and no doubt led to her winning the prestigious People’s Choice award at the show.
Tips & tricks
- Spring-flowering bulbs, such as daffodils, bluebells, snowdrops, hyacinths, anemone, ranunculus and tulips all need to be planted in the next month or two. Ideally before the end of April.
- Plant the bulbs deeply. The rule of thumb is to plant them twice as deep as the bulb’s length. For example, an average daffodil bulb is 5cm long, this means it should be planted 10cm deep in the ground or in a pot. Plant too shallow and plants can fall over and flowering will be poor.
- Plant only the biggest and fattest healthylooking bulbs. Discard anything wilted, withered or damaged.
- If the ground is still too warm or you don’t have time, bulbs can be stored in the fridge for a month or two before planting. But don’t leave it too long; the longer they are in the ground the better.
- Feed them with bulb food. Be generous, applying both when the plant is actively growing and still has foliage, and at planting time.
Flowering bulbs all year round
With careful planning and planting you can have different bulbs flowering all year. Autumn kicks off with nerines and belladonna lilies, which appear as soon as the days start to shorten and the soils cool. Autumn crocus and saffron punch above the ground then, too, as do the majestic climbing gloriosa lilies. In winter, bluebells, soleil d’or, snowflakes, snowdrops and grape hyacinth punctuate the cold ground and add that twinkle of something pretty. These are followed by the main spring flurry of stalwarts such as iris, daffodils, Fritillaria, anemone, ranunculus, tulips and hyacinths. Once summer hits, lilies are a mainstay. Orientals and Asiatic are the staples, along with the stately grand old matrons, my favourites, the gladioli.
Bulbs are best planted when they are dormant, with the most common time of planting being in autumn for traditional spring-flowering bulbs.
Lifting and dividing
Every few seasons it is wise to lift and divide up existing bulb patches. Over time, as the bulbs multiply, they end up growing on top of each other, and then compete for the same nutrients and water in the soil. Once this happens the flowering rate diminishes and the plants become weak. By giving them all a bit more room, and some fresh soil, you will get a better show and more reliable flowering.
It is a simple process and best done when the bulb tops have died down after flowering, but before they totally retreat into the soil. Gently insert a fork well under the root area of the bulbs, ease them up out of the soil and loosen off any soil clinging to them. This is best done when the soil is dry. Place them in trays or banana boxes in a single layer, discarding anything that gets damaged or that looks rotten or diseased.
Before replanting, fertilise the area with bulb fertiliser and blend in a layer of compost to dry soils.
Patio tubs with multi-plantings
As bulbs hibernate under the soil for half the year, it is nice, especially in tubs and planters, to plant some other flowers to add some sparkle for the rest of the year. Annuals are great options for this, as are herbs and salad crops. Consider planting patio tubs with a mix of bulbs that flower throughout the season. Choose a blend of snowdrops, which flower in winter, then partner with spring-flowering campaigners such as daffodils and hyacinths. Lilies could be your summer pick, followed by freesias or nerines for the autumn pick.
A lovely gesture for that friend who has everything, or maybe for someone who has just built a new house, is to give them bulbs. Even if they have a garden full of treasures, a pot planted with bulbs will remind them of you when they burst through the ground in a few months’ time. And this doesn’t need to cost a lot either. If you are lifting and dividing your own bulbs, select a few for them. Wrap in a paper bag, add a bow, and voilà, a wonderful growing gift.
Daffodil ‘Bridal Crown’.
This is a sweetlyperfumed spring daffodil that has layers of frilly, pale cream flowers, with splashes of apricot tones that appear from the centre of each bloom. One to plant near a window or doorway so you can appreciate its perfume.
Anemone coronaria ‘The Bride’.
This gem produces stem after stem of single snow-white blooms as the soil warms. Perfect as a cut flower, this one is a popular option for weddings. Plant in drifts for maximum impact. Staggered plantings a month apart will provide an extended flowering season. Happy in full sun or part shade.
Packed with perfume, the wonderful clean, white blooms look a picture. Don’t skimp on planting these out; you need to have enough for the vase and the garden. At their best planted in large drifts or groups.
Hyacinthus orientalis ‘King of the Blues’.
Spikes of sky-blue flowers appear each spring, complete with a sweet perfume. A good option for those who like flowers for picking. Once picked they last in a vase for a fortnight if the water is changed frequently. These can be grown indoors, too. Double daffodil ‘Erlicheer’. Often one of the first to flower, the strongly scented blooms have soft layers of creamy-white petals with a hint of yellow in the centre and the most delightful perfume. This is a popular choice with gardeners all over.
This pint-sized miniature daffodil produces a mass of clean lemon-yellow flowers in spring. Whilst it has a dwarf habit, all it wants to do is flower. An ideal option for use in planters, pots and window boxes. It readily selfseeds too, so it’s a good option for areas where you want them to naturalise.
Anemone coronaria ‘Bordeaux’.
Wine connoisseurs will enjoy the deep claret-red petals of this bulb. Team it up with white bulbs, such as hyacinths or ranunculus, and it will really command your attention. The flowers last for up to two weeks in a vase. Plant in drifts for maximum impact.
‘Neon’ with a luminous yellow base and white collar is dramatic. ‘Wave’ looks like a ripper, too, and will appeal to those who like the two-toned white and yellow varieties. It provides a stunning display of scented showy blooms. For those who like all things white and cream, ‘White Marvel’ is pretty, too. Packed with perfume, its frilly double creamy-white blooms sit up beautifully.