If you want gorgeous spring-flowering bulbs, you have a few more weeks to prepare your garden. Four months or so from now, your winter-ravaged garden will be bursting with colour and fragrance from freesias, jonquils, ranunculus, hyacinths, gladioli. Maybe even tulips. In the dappled shade of your deciduous trees you will find grape hyacinths, cyclamen, snowdrops.
Daffodils at Hill End
I’m talking about true bulbs, like daffodils, liliums, jonquils and snowflakes, as well as freesias and anemones (corms), and ranunculus (root tubers). Most winter-spring flowering bulbs can be planted from mid-March through to mid-May. Tulips can be planted from around late May through to early June.
Snowflakes, also commonly known as snowdrops, in Australia
The soil here in Mudgee is still quite warm, so my new bulbs are cooling their heels in the fridge crisper for a few more weeks, while I make a mad scramble to get some new beds ready. I’ll be hoping for a re-appearance of my naturalised hyacinths, jonquils and daffodils, keeping my fingers crossed that they’ve survived our blistering summer.
Tips for success with bulbs
- Choose bulbs as you would choose fruit or vegetables- they should be firm and full, not dry, lightweight or squashy.
- Don’t let them get hot- this may sterilise them and you’ll end up with great foliage but no flowers.
- If you’re unsure about planting depth, plant bulbs about two to three times deep as they are wide. Exceptions include cyclamen, which grow near the surface, and Eucomis (Pineapple lily) which like to be planted with their necks just above the soil.
- True bulbs are planted pointy end up. Ranunculi and anemone are planted claws-down. If in doubt, plant them sideways and they’ll emerge the right way as they grow.
- Anemone bulbs do better if soaked in water for 3-4 hours before planting.
- Prepare the ground for new bulb plantings by removing weeds and sprinkling in a bulb food which is high in potassium and phosphorus, and add compost to improve drainage. Fork the soil over to a crumbly texture and add some sand or grit to the bottom of the hole- this also improves drainage and prevents rotting.
- You can also top dress existing clumps of bulbs that are already under ground.
- Bulbs are spectacular planted in bold groups, natural drifts beneath deciduous trees or scattered among grass in the meadow garden.
Nooroo, Mount Wilson
- Bulbs look great in herbaceous borders, threaded through perennials which bring interest in different seasons and help to mask the dying bulb foliage. You can plant small flowering annuals such as pansies or violas, on top.
- If planting bulbs in a lawn area, lift a square of turf and plant a group of bulbs rather than planting them individually.
- Growing several bulb varieties together prolongs the flowering period and adds variety.
- When green shoots appear, apply a slow release fertiliser such as blood and bone or cow manure.
More of the glories of Nooroo, Mount Wilson
Growing bulbs in pots
This is a great alternative if your soil isn’t well drained. Wide, squat pots look great. They can be filled with bulbs, planted a little shallower than in the garden- about twice as deep as the size of the bulb- cheek to cheek, almost touching. Top with more soil and sprinkle with slow-release fertiliser.
If you use a deeper pot, you can plant larger bulbs such as daffodils in the bottom and smaller bulbs such as grape hyacinths nearer to the top.
Put the pots in a sunny position and keep them moist.
When they finish flowering
Don’t remove the foliage until it’s completely died back, about 6-8 weeks after flowering. During this period, the foliage is making the food and the energy to go back into the bulb ready for next year’s flowering. I apply a liquid feed at this time.
If bulbs are lifted at the end of their season, they can be stored in old stockings or mesh onion bags, hung up in the shed over summer. Left in the ground they can multiply with abandon to create the lovely naturalised woodland look.
Ensure the bulbs don’t get too hot over summer, whether they’re in the soil or the shed- extreme heat can sterilise bulbs.
Some favourite bulbs
Galanthus, the true English Snowdrop, is a miniature, growing to just 10 centimetres high. For an amazing article about snowdrops in England, have a look at https://susanrushton.net/2018/02/25/snowdrop-aholics-in-the-news/. I’m trying these for the first time, this year.
Galanthus- English Snowdrop
Hyacinths are beautiful planted in shallow bowls. Water the newly planted bulbs well, then cover with a couple of sheets of newspaper. This deprives the bulbs of light, forcing strong root development which strengthens the plant so that when the flowers do come, they’re less likely to flop over with all their heavy weight.
Other less common but lovely bulbs include wild cyclamen and crocus. They need sun for the flowers to fully open, but are still lovely planted under deciduous trees. Many will naturalise, spreading around without becoming weedy.
Crocus and snowdrops
Here’s what I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for, come winter’s end…Are you planting bulbs?