When buying bulbs reject any that are soft or showing signs of mould. Small bulbs may not flower in their first year. Aim to plant within a week or they’ll start to sprout. When possible, check that the plants have been obtained from reliable growers, rather than from stock that has been collected from the wild.
Choose bulbs according to location and soil type. Most hardy bulbs originate from the Mediterranean, thriving in a warm, sunny climate in freely draining soil. Good drainage and plenty of sunshine is key, since most bulbs are prone to rot while dormant.
Preparing the ground
Remove weeds and incorporate lots of compost or other organic matter when planting bulbs. On heavy soils, dig in horticultural grit. Bulbs grown in pots need good drainage so put plenty of drainage in the bottom and use a well-drained compost.
How to plant bulbs
Planting in a flower bed
To create a good show in a planting bed you should really think about planting at least 40-50 bulbs. To plant, 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 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.
Personally, I like to scatter bulbs rather than place them as it usually creates a more natural look. It can be hard to place them and not end up with neat rows!
In a flower pot
Most bulbs are ideal for growing in flower pots, but this especially suits those with large, showy flowers, such as tulips, lilies, arum lilies and alliums. Here are some general tips for success:
• For bulbs that are only going to spend one season in their pot, use a mix of three parts multi-purpose compost 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.
Don’t get out of your depth with bulb planting…
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