Planting bulbs can be extremely rewarding, with plants like daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, and crocus adding a wealth of colour to your garden. Whilst you may need to wait weeks or even months to see results, it’s certainly worth making the effort. A vibrant display of flowering bulbs can be a picturesque sight that can brighten up your outside space from year to year. What’s great is that you don’t need to be an experienced gardener to plant bulbs. With a bit of basic knowledge, anyone can grow them.
What to look for to make sure you buy the best bulbs
Most bulbs have a lengthy dormant period, which means they require little attention for a lot of the year. When buying bulbs, it’s important to make sure they’re healthy and fresh. If not, you may not get the spectacular show you’re hoping for.
It’s a good idea to look out for mould when buying bulbs. Some may have a few blemishes, but they’re fine. If surface mould rubs off when wiped and the bulb appears firm and smooth and firm, they’re probably OK too. However, if the mould won’t rub off, you should put the bulb back. It’s also important to look for soft spots on bulbs. The basal plate, where roots sprout, must not be soft or mushy to the touch.
The size and weight of bulbs should also be considered. Bigger bulbs are considered better, with some smaller ones failing to flower at all. The one exception is hyacinth bulbs. Biggest is not always best in this case, with the biggest bulbs producing top-heavy flowers that bow down when it rains. When buying hyacinth bulbs, look out for the circumference. The best size hyacinth for the garden are 16/17cm.
When it comes to the weight of bulbs, try to avoid buying those at feel light. These bulbs have often become dried out from either too much heat or being kept in storage too long.
What should you do with your bulbs when you get them home?
Ideally, you should plant your bulbs as soon as you get them home. If you’ve purchased them via mail order, open the box as soon as it arrives. Take a close look at the bulbs to make sure they’re all in good condition. If you can’t plant them right away, you should store them in a cool, dry place such as a garage or basement. Warmth and moisture can lead the bulbs to begin growing prematurely. Check the bulbs occasionally to make sure they’re not getting soft or mouldy.
Types of bulbs
There are two main types of bulbs: spring and summer.
Spring bulbs: Also known as hardy bulbs, they’re planted in autumn and spend winter in the ground before flowering in spring. Some of the most popular spring bulbs are daffodils, tulips, irises, hyacinths, crocus, and allium. They require several weeks of low temperatures to break dormancy and grow to their full potential.
Summer bulbs: Sometimes called tender bulbs, they’re planted in the spring months and flower in summer. Some common examples include lilies, gladiolus, and caladiums. Some bulbs don’t bloom until later in summer and have longer flowering periods. For example, dahlias often flower until the first hard frosts appear in Autumn. Most summer bulbs can’t tolerate cold temperatures, which is why they need to be planted after frost has disappeared and the ground warms up. If you buy summer bulbs before planting time, make sure you store them in a dry, cool place.
When to plant bulbs
When to plant bulbs depends on when they bloom. Spring bulbs, such as daffodils and tulips, should be planted from September or October when the soil temperatures have cooled but before the first frost occurs. Summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and dahlia should ideally be planted in the spring months.
When to plant daffodil bulbs
Knowing when to plant spring bulbs like daffodils is the key to ensuring your garden is filled with colour come March and April. Daffodil bulbs should be planted in October or November in soil that is well-drained. They will grow well in sun or in part shade.
When to plant tulip bulbs
Tulips are one of the most popular spring bulbs in the UK. You should plant them between October and November before the first hard frost appears. The soil should be nice and moist at this time of the year, making planting the bulbs easier. If they’re planted earlier than October, they may start to grow, which can result in frost damage to the roots. Plus, cooler temperatures will help to eradicate viral or fungal diseases which may be present in the soil. Many growers decide to plant tulips bulbs in a polytunnel in order to protect them from the elements.
When to plant lily bulbs
Lilies are one of the best-loved summer bulbs in the UK. With their huge trumpet-shaped flowers and scented blooms, they’re hard to beat. Planted as bulbs, they can be grown in borders or containers. In terms of when to plant lily bulbs, it’s best to get them in the soil in the autumn when they’re at their peak. This gives them adequate time to establish before summer. Although you should ideally plant in early autumn, bulbs can be planted until spring.
How to plant bulbs
Bulbs are some of the easiest plants to grow in your garden, requiring only well-drained soil and sunshine to flourish. You should choose their location carefully, ideally planting bulbs in an area of soil that drains well. Most bulbs need between four to six hours of sunlight every day, although some varieties are more tolerant of shade than others.
Establishing planting depth is important when growing bulbs. If they’re planted too deep, they may bloom too late or not even at all. If they’re too shallow, they may appear above the soil too soon, leaving them exposed and risking damage by low temperatures. In general, you should plant bulbs roughly two to three times their own depth.
Before planting the bulbs, you need to prepare the soil. Loosen it up by breaking down any large clumps and mix in organic material if needed for extra nutrients or to increase drainage.
It’s important to plant bulbs with their tops facing upwards and the roots down. If you’re unsure which is the top and bottom, plant the bulb on its side. Cover the bulbs over with soil and a thin layer of mulch and then water them well to settle them in. In some cases, bulbs need to be protected from animals by placing wire mesh over the beds or putting them in wire cages.
Caring for your bulbs
Flowering bulbs provide beautiful blooms year after year if they’re well cared for. Watering and feeding them regularly is vital, with all bulbs requiring adequate water not just during growth but for six weeks after flowering. You should check them often to make sure they’re not drying out. The compost should feel moist but without being wet to the touch. Special bulb fertilizer can be added to encourage bulbs’ growth and help them to flower well in the following season. If the bulbs are in containers, use a liquid feed with high potassium, such as tomato fertiliser.
Many people who want to know how to plant daffodil bulbs wonder when they should cut back the bulb foliage. Ideally, you should wait for at least six weeks after they’ve flowered before you start removing the dead foliage. Preferably, you should only cut off the foliage when it has become yellow and straw-like. If the foliage is cut back too soon, bulbs may not grow well, or even at all the following year. Until then, the bulbs should be watered and fed as mentioned above.
Digging up your bulbs
Spring bulbs in warmer climates that require chilling can be dug up and stored until the following autumn. In colder climates, they can remain in the ground. Many will multiply, returning year after year to produce beautiful blooms.
Summer bulbs in warmer climates can be left in the ground; however, it’s best to protect them with an insulating layer of mulch during winter. In colder climates, bulbs should be dug up and then stored until the next spring. Here are some great tips for digging up bulbs:
- Cut back remaining stems or foliage to a couple of inches above soil level.
- Loosen the soil before carefully removing the bulbs
- Place the bulbs in a cool place and let them dry for a couple of days
- Make sure animals or children can’t get to them
- Store in a mesh bag or a cardboard box with several holes.
- Leave them in a cool, dark place, such as a garage or basement
Flowering bulbs store energy between growing seasons, allowing beautiful flowers to grow annually. Whether you choose to plant spring bulbs like daffodils, tulips or hyacinths; or summer bulbs like lilies or dahlias, you can look forward to them bringing vibrant colours to your garden year after year.
Sean Barker is the MD of First Tunnels, and is enthusiastic about providing quality gardening supplies to gardeners across the UK