Now is the time to purchase and plant your spring flowering bulbs to create colour in your garden when winter starts to give way.
Spring flowering bulbs are hardy and can be left in the ground to flower in the following years. Bulbs do not take up much space so they can be planted in small gardens where space is limited under deciduous trees or shrubs or grown in pots on a patio. The sale of bulbs has grown enormously in recent years, they are like nature’s fast food, and they come pre-packed with a baby flower inside ready to grow.
Garden centres now contain a wide variety of bulbs, while DIY outlets will only stock the popular varieties. Specialist bulb catalogues are one of the best ways to buy new and unusual varieties. Choose bulbs that are big and firm, a bit like buying vegetables in the supermarket.
Bulbs like a well-drained soil in full sun. The Dutch have a saying that “bulbs do not like wet feet”. If your soil is heavy and wet, dig in lots of grit and coarse gravel to improve drainage. If the soil is poor, mix some fertiliser with the soil. After the flowers have faded, cut off the dead flower heads to stop them going to seed, allow the green foliage to die back naturally, a process that takes about six weeks. Do not be tempted to tie up the leaves with string, the leaves need exposure to sun to produce food to recharge the bulb for next year’s flowers.
During this period apply a potash-rich fertiliser, like tomato feed, to feed the bulb for the following year.
Plant the bulbs at two to three times the height of the bulb and space them 2-3 times their width. Plant the bulbs in groups or small clusters, a single flower standing on its own is not very dramatic. Plant low growing bulbs in front of taller varieties. Pick bulbs that flower at different times of the year to produce a continuous display of colour. Planting bulbs that flower from February to May in a herbaceous border will give early colour to the border and the new growth on the herbaceous plants will camouflage the dying leaves of the bulbs.
Galanthus (snowdrops) will flower in January. Crocuses will flower from the autumn to February. They only grow about three inches tall and to produce a massive effect plant 100 – 150 bulbs together. Any bulbs you plant this year will reproduce next spring so it is possible to build up an impressive display over a number of years. There is a wide choice of daffodils to pick from. They come in numerous shapes, sizes and colours and they are cheap to buy. Dwarf varieties like ‘Rip van Winkle’ are ideal for the rock garden. ‘Professor Einstein’ has white petals with an orange-red centre.
Erythroniums will produce flowers in a range of colours like cream, pink and yellow in March. The leaves can be twisted with purple and wine blotches. Tulips are perhaps the most extravagant of all spring bulbs. They produce flowers in a wide range of colours and forms from dwarf varieties to very tall ones. It is best to wait until November or December before planting the bulbs, they root better when soil temperatures have cooled down. Tulipa ‘Red Riding Hood’ grows about 8 inches tall with red flowers.
Alliums have become very popular plants. They produce striking spherical, drumstick flower heads in a range of colours like purple, yellow, pinks and white. They range in height from 8 to 60 inches. Fritillarias produce nodding flower heads in colours like white, yellow and different shades of purple. Fritillaria meleagris likes a moist soil with lots of compost added. Fritillaria imperialis has large yellow or red flowers. The bulb needs to be planted on its side with lots of grit added to the soil.
Muscari is a spring flowering bulb that produces blue, purple and white flowers on short stems about 3 inches tall. It is very hardy and easy to grow.