Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Planting Spring Bulbs


It is always very uplifting to see the emergence of the first spring flowers after a long dark cold winter. They are the sign that winter is ending and warmer weather is on its way.
Traditionally March was the turning point when shoots started to appear, then up popped the first snowdrops and winter aconites. Global warming has changed all that, but climate change is not occurring gradually. It is a bit like the stock market, over time it improves but has wild swings along the journey. Several years ago I was enjoying a coffee break outdoors in glorious warm sunshine at the end of February. Last April my early tulips were broken down with the weight of snow on them. I used to think Narcissus February Gold was a joke as it flowered in April, but now it almost does flower at the end of February. See the drifts of them along the Lochee Road next February or maybe March.

This is the time of year to be planning, buying and planting bulbs for that early flower display. The garden Centres, nurseries and stores are full of bulbs for every situation around the garden.

Bulb planting ideas

Bulbs start to flower in February with the snowdrops and continue till mid summer with the lilies. They will give a more impressive display if they are planted in bold drifts. They can also be mixed together with several types of bulbs to extend the season of display. Snowdrops can be mixed with crocus and tulips which are planted deeper and also summer lilies which flower much later, but all grow happy together.
However consider the location for each type. Snowdrops, aconites, bluebells, chionodoxa and grape hyacinths are all happy in partial or dappled shade, whereas crocus need sunshine to open up the flowers. Many bulbs thrive under deciduous trees as they do their growing early before the trees develop a dense canopy. Often this canopy will dry out the soil surface in summer which may suit the bulb during its dormant stage.

I find numerous places to grow bulbs in association with other plants such as in the herbaceous border, coloured stemmed or winter border, woodland border amongst the Himalayan blue poppies, and of course in the spring bedding displays in borders and tubs.
Bulbs, such as hyacinths and narcissus can also be grown in pots for the house, then later after flowering dried off and planted out in the garden.

Early flowering bulbs such as narcissus and crocus can be planted in lawns, but remember to let the leaves grow to feed the bulbs for the following years flowers. Always allow a minimum of six weeks from flowering before mowing off the leaves, though many people will advise to leave them till they begin to turn yellow. In some wet years that can take a long time especially with the large headed daffodils.
Another great plant association is a drift of Anemone blanda with Cyclamen hederifolium as they both have totally different flowering and growing seasons. Anemone blanda flowers in spring, then grows quickly till mid summer before dying down. The cyclamen flowers emerge in late August to September and continue to grow till winter before dying down.

To capture and enjoy the beauty of those first flowers in late winter plant some snowdrops, aconites and crocus species in view of the main house windows. Then even after a snowfall you can still see them emerging unscathed from the comfort of a warm house. I have a drift of these next to a beautiful pure white Christmas rose, Helleborus niger which flowers at the same time and viewed from the patio window.

Bulbs for the house

Hyacinths are hard to beat for a flowering scented house plant and come in many colours. My favourite was always the red Jan Bos, but there are excellent blues, pinks and whites. For the earliest flowers choose bulbs that have been prepared for forcing and try to get them potted up at the end of August or early September.
Bulbs can be planted close together, even one above the other in bulb fibre compost in wide pots. Water them in then put them outdoors against a north wall. They prefer to be kept dark at this stage for about ten or so weeks and protect them from frost and mice.. This encourages root growth but holds back leaves and flowers. They should not need much watering. Keep checking them for signs of shoot growth and as soon as they begin to grow, probably in late November to December, introduce them to a light but not sunny place such as a cold frame or cool greenhouse. Keep them cold but frost free, until the flowers begin to show. Gradually warm them up but leave it to the last minute before you take them into the warmth of a house otherwise they will grow too tall.
Early narcissus and dwarf tulips e.g. Red Riding Hood, can also be grown in pots for early flowering. I like the scented Cheerfulness types which have double flowers and a heady perfume. Grow them the same way as hyacinths.

Bulbs for the garden

My season starts in early February with a clump of snowdrops planted under my grape vine on a south facing wall which gets a lot of heat from the sun. Then other snowdrops, aconites and crocus species all come together. Crocus should come after the snowdrops, but not any more. Anemone blanda is drifted under our apple trees and follows the crocus before the bluebells smother the ground under our Bramley apple and Victoria plum, all happy to grow together. In the front of our fruit tree mini orchard, (five trees) there are drifts of lilies which grow up into the sun.
The herbaceous border is covered in hyacinths previously grown in pots but now naturalised plus Chionodoxa, the Glory of the Snows. One display after another.

Where ever there is a space amongst shrubs I have planted sacks of daffodils, narcissus, tulips and grape hyacinths which are all left to grow and spread as they wish. I keep adding to them every year. Types of fosteriana tulips have large flowers, are very early and naturalise well.

Tubs and Beds

My Parks Dept training as a gardener was very thorough so I always follow our tradition of planting both summer and winter bedding plants in borders, tubs and hanging baskets.
At this time of year the normal selection will be Wallflowers, Myosotis, Polyanthus and winter flowering pansies.
I choose the tall Darwin Hybrid tulips for interplanting amongst the wallflower, but dwarf early tulips or species to go between the others.
Tubs and pots are also planted with dwarf tulips amongst the pansies and myosotis and often a few crocus are added to give an early display.
I do not use bulbs in my winter hanging baskets as these are usually filled with winter pansies which can suffer from too much foliage from the crocus which just loves to grow when you water and feed them.
All of these bulbs get dried out after flowering to be reused elsewhere in the garden the following year.


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