Now the winter veggie planting’s sorted, it’s time to think about spring bulbs. You still have a few more weeks to prepare, and in four months or so, your wintery garden will begin bursting with colour and fragrance from freesias, jonquils, ranunculus, hyacinths, gladioli. Maybe even tulips. In the dappled shade of deciduous trees you will find grape hyacinths, cyclamen, snowdrops.
Late winter, 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).
Gorgeous colour palette of ranunculi, Oakey Creek
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. In April, the soil in Mudgee is still quite warm, so I’ll be holding off for a few more weeks, while I get some new beds ready.
Snowflakes, often called “snowdrops” in Australia
If you have a fridge in which you don’t keep fruit or vegetables, you can give bulbs a head start by cooling them in the crisper for a couple of weeks prior to planting. (Don’t keep them where they can be exposed to ethylene from ripening fruit & veg as this harms the bulbs.) This isn’t really needed in cold climates.
Vivid red anemones
Tips for success with bulbs
Choose bulbs which are firm and full, not dry, lightweight or squashy.
If you’re unsure about planting depth, it’s pretty safe to 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.
Lovely Pineapple Lilies in my Mudgee garden
True bulbs are planted pointy end up. Ranunculi and anemone should be planted claws-down. If you’re unsure, plant them sideways and they’ll right themselves as they grow. Anemone bulbs do better if soaked in water for 3-4 hours before planting.
Prepare soil for new bulb plantings by removing weeds and sprinkling in a good bulb food (which should be 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 planting hole to improve drainage and prevent rotting.
You can also top dress bulbs that are already under ground. When first shoots appear, apply a slow release fertiliser such as blood and bone or cow manure.
Bulbs are spectacular planted in bold groups, naturalised drifts beneath deciduous trees or scattered among grass in the meadow garden. They can be used in herbaceous borders, threaded through perennials.
Winter serenity at Oakey Creek
If planting bulbs in a lawn area, lift a square of turf and plant a group of bulbs rather than planting them individually.
Nooroo, Mount Wilson
Growing several bulb varieties together means a longer overall flowering period.
Bluebells and daffodils, Nooro
Growing bulbs in pots
Growing bulbs in pots is a great alternative if your soil isn’t well drained. Pots 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.
You could plant larger bulbs such as daffodils in the bottom of the pot, and smaller bulbs such as grape hyacinths nearer to the top. Put the pots in a sunny position and keep them moist.
If you can’t wait until spring for your pot to look fantastic, you can plant something on top, such as pansies or violas.
When they finish flowering
Once bulbs have finished flowering, leave the withering 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 mesh bags, hung up in the shed until the next year (provided they won’t get too hot over summer). Left in the ground they can multiply with abandon to create the lovely naturalised woodland look as you can see at Nooroo. It’s important to ensure the bulbs don’t get too hot in the soil or the shed- extreme heat can sterilise bulbs.
Some favourite bulbs
Hyacinths are beautiful planted in shallow bowls. Once you’ve planted your bowl, water well and then cover with a couple of sheets of newspaper. This deprives the bulbs of light, forcing really strong root development, so when the flowers do come, they’re less likely to flop over with their heavy weight.
White hyacinth, Oakey Creek
Other less common but lovely bulbs include wild cyclamen and Crocus, which flower in winter and spring. 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.
Grape hyacinths do well in shaded spots
Here’s what I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for, come winter’s end…Are you planting bulbs?