Don’t believe anyone who says that planting flower bulbs is difficult or hard work.
It really is as easy as beating a five year old at a game of chess, so there just
aren’t any valid excuses for not getting busy! Below we set out 5 simple steps
to consider when you are planning to turn your garden into your local “Keukenhof”.
1. Make a plan
Rather than rushing off to your local garden centre or supermarket and fill up your trolley with impulse purchases of flower bulbs, take some time to think about what it is you want to achieve. Whether you are just looking to fill up some empty areas in your border or along your fence, or whether you fancy yourself as the next famous TV Gardener, it usually pays to just take a step back and decide upon the actual goal.
Perhaps start off with a simple drawing of your garden and the spots where you would like to see spring and/or summer colours from a variety of bulbs. Consider the various areas and their pros and cons. An area with deciduous trees may look very shady in September, but for spring flowering bulbs this is not a big problem given that their life cycles have most likely completed by the time these trees produce their leaves. For summer flowering bulbs this is a different issue. Consider also whether you would like to experiment with naturalising bulbs or whether you want different splashes of colour each year.
Also think about which bulbs fit in with existing plants and shrubs (colour, size, flowering period, etc). Furthermore whether the areas you are considering for bulbs are dry, moist, windy, shady or sunny. There are bulbs for pretty much every scenario, so be aware of which scenario you are actually going to need them for.
2. Buy top quality flower bulbs – Lots of them!
This seems obvious, but many still go wrong here. When buying flower bulbs, make sure they look healthy. Don’t plant any that are soft or showing signs of severe mould. Not only are they unlikely to come up, they may also infect neighbouring bulbs if they are indeed suffering from disease. Especially with tulips, the outer (dried) skin can sometimes look a bit torn and often peel off a somewhat, but this is not a problem, as long as the bulb itself is not severely bruised.
Buy top-size bulbs! As a rule of thumb, the bigger, the better. Larger bulbs simply produce more impressive flowers. Please see our footer section for tips on optimal bulb sizes. A tulip sized 12/+ might cost a little more than one sized 10/11 or 11/12, but you will see marked difference in spring. Very small bulbs may not even flower at all in their first year.
Buy lots of top-size bulbs! Not only is bigger better, more of bigger is even better! Bulbs are the best value for money when it comes to sheer flower power so “dig a bit deeper” and don’t economise too much on the quantities you are going to plant. A tulip here and there in a garden just doesn’t look good. Clusters of 10, or better still, 20 or 30 of the same variety close together will look spectacular. When naturalising small (inexpensive) bulbs like crocuses or dwarf daffodils, planting large enough quantities are even more important (think 100 or 200+ depending on the size of your garden).
3. Time it right
Spring flowering bulbs for autumn planting tend to be available in garden centres and supermarkets from August onwards. The problem however is that August (or even most of September for that matter) really is still a bit too early to plant popular common bulb varieties such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocuses. October/November is the ideal time to plant most spring flowering bulbs as by then the soil temperature has normally sufficiently cooled down (below 15 degrees Celsius). For summer flowering, non-hardy bulbs that are planted in spring, it pays to wait until the risk of (night) frost has passed.
Although in a dormant state, bulbs are living plants and when above ground, need to be stored in optimal conditions. Weeks or even months in a distribution channel or store with inefficient circulation and/or sub-optimal temperatures is detrimental to the health of the bulbs. A cool, dark garage may well work fine for a while, but ideally you want your bulbs stored as long as possible in a climate-controlled warehouse.
A solution for this “timing” problem, if we can call it that, is buying your bulbs online, direct from the supplier. Find a supplier where you can pre-order your bulbs and who will store them for you until the right time for planting has arrived. As soon as the bulbs arrive at your doorstep you can then plant them immediately according to your by now well laid out plan!
4. Prepare, plant and mark
Prior to planting, make sure weeds are removed and the area for planting has received some compost or other suitable fertiliser. Flower bulbs generally prefer moderately moist, well-drained soil. We use a rule of thumb that the planting depth is 2 to 3 times the height of the bulb. There are exceptions so always check the planting instructions that accompany the bulbs. Planting distance depends on the variety, and again we recommend following the instructions on the label.
Many people, including many gardeners unfortunately just don’t have the best memories and therefore it is always helpful to discreetly mark the spot where you have planted your bulbs (perhaps with a small label). There are few things more annoying than having planted your exclusive fritillaria bulbs in a certain spot, and several weeks later you plunge a spade in the ground to also plant that new shrub you bought, not realising you just sliced and killed your precious bulbs!
One last thing to consider in certain areas is the lovely squirrel. These little demons often watch you plant your daffodils, wait until you have gone inside to make a cup of tea and then dig them up again. In the case of tulips, gladioli or in particular freesia they love to eat them as well! The best defence against these “bulb destroyers” is placing some chicken wire over the planted areas.
5. Relax and enjoy
Once you have planted your bulbs, all you have to do is relax and wait until spring, and then enjoy the fruits of your (limited) labour. It is extremely unlikely you will be disappointed by the display of colours that you have been responsible for creating!
For more information or buying flower bulbs online, please visit our website at www.bulbsandbeyond.com