Bulbs can be some of the easiest plants to grow, provided they are planted correctly, so here are some hints and tips to get you going:
- The vast majority of our bulbs should be planted in early autumn - September and October. If the weather is particularly warm in early September then store your bulbs in a cool, dry place until the weather cools down.
- If you plant too early then they will start to shoot and the new, soft shoots can be damaged by the first frosts. Tulip bulbs can be planted way into November, so don't rush to put them in in September, it is best to wait a little.
- As a general rule, bulbs should be planted at a depth of around 3 times the height of the bulb, so Tulips at around 15cm deep, dwarf Narcissi at 10cm deep. This rule has exceptions as very small bulbs such as snowdrops should be planted a bit deeper than 3 times their depth, at around 10cm deep.
- Bulbs don't like to be sitting in damp, badly drained soil as they can rot, so if you have particularly heavy soil then dig in some compost, grit or leaf mould to improve drainage. This would also be beneficial in very sandy or poor soils as it will help the soil to retain nutrients. Different bulb varieties have different requirements in terms of soil and position so do see our individual category pages for more info.
Naturalising and planting in grass:
- Bulbs can look wonderful planted among grass or under trees, and many varieties will naturalise (spread naturally) to form large swathes. Bulbs that are particularly suited to this are bluebells, cyclamen, crocus, daffodils and snowdrops.
- If you are planting in grass you can use a trowel or bulb planter to dig individual holes for each bulb. Lay all the bulbs out on top of the grass before you start to plant so you don't forget where you have already planted. To get a natural looking even spread you can always throw handfuls of bulbs onto the ground and plant them where they land. This is a particulaly good method for anyone who has a natural inclination to plant in rows if left to their own devices!
- If you have a particlarly large area of grass that you want to plant with bulbs, you can always take up the turf, plant the bulbs underneath and then lay it back down like a rug.
Planting in containers:
- Many bulbs, particulary shorter types, are ideal for planting in containers as you can move the containers into a prominent position when they are in flower and then hide them at the back of the garden when the leaves are dying down. Use a good quality compost and it always helps add some grit to improve drainage, although this isn't essential. You can buy special bulb compost which is great but any good multi-purpose is also absolutely fine.
- Try planting a bulb 'lasagne' - layering different bulbs at different depths in the pot so you get a succession of flowers. Plant the larger, later flowering bulbs nearer the bottom and the early flowering, smaller bulbs near the top. Try species Iris on top, dwarf Narcissi and then May flowering tulips at the bottom. Experiment with different combination of colours and types.
Some rather particular varieties:
Some varieties of bulbs are worth a special mention here as they have particular or unusual storage and planting requirements.
- Erythroniums: Keep these unusual looking bulbs in the fridge before planting
- Anemone nemerosa: Like Erythroniums, these knobbly tubers need to be kept in the fridge before planting
- Crown Imperial Fritillarias: These huge bulbs have a hole through the middle, Don't panic - this is normal but they do need to be planted on their sides. This stops water collecting in the hole and rotting the bulb
- Cyclamen - These flattened corms need to be planted near the surace in order for them to flower. 3-5cm deep is plenty.
- Anemones (except nemerosa) - These knobbly corms benefit from being soaked in water overnight before planting
- Prepared Hyacinths - These Hyacinths will flower in winter - at Christmas if you time it right. Plant the bulbs in shallow bowls or pots with the top just showing above the surface (bulb fibre is perfect for growing them in) and put them in a cool, dry place until they have started growing roots and the shoots are around 4-5cm tall. This will take around 8-10 weeks. Check regularly that the compost is damp. Then bring them indoors and place them away from a direct source of heat to flower (not above the radiator!)
Mice and squirrels:
- These furry little creatures can sometimes dig up bulbs, particularly small varieties such as Snakeshead Fritillary and Snowdrops. As much as we love helping the local wildlife through the winter, if you live in an area with a lot of squirrels or mice, it may be worth planting these small bulbs safely in pots, then transplanting them to the ground in the spring when the foliage has stated to emerge.
What to do after flowering
- It is tempting to cut back the leaves of bulbs after they have flowered to neaten up the garden- don't do it! The leaves need to die down naturally, as by doing so nutrients are put back into the bulb for next year. You can leave bulbs where they are, to come up again next year, or lift them, which is a good idea for tulips as it increases the chances of flowering next year.
- If you do lift your bulbs, either cover them with soil and leave them in pots ready to plant again next year or clean the soil off, wait for the foliage to die back and the bulbs to dry out, then store in a warm, dry, well ventilated place until next autumn.
- The majority of bulbs flower reliably year after year, however many tulips will put on a fantastic show one year only. They are often treated as annuals and new bulbs are replanted yearly - this allows you to ring the changes with varieties and colours each year. If you want tulips that flower reliable year after year without lifting go for the Greigii, Fosteriana or Kaufmanniana types.