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Planting bulbs for spring

Planting bulbs for spring

Potted bulb display in the garden at Great Dixter

Bulbs need to be planted now so that their beautiful blooms will give your garden beds a spectacular display in spring.

Bulbs planted now will generally flower in late winter, spring and early summer.  If you spend a little bit of time now thinking about colour combinations, you will benefit from an amazing show of flowers in spring.  You don’t need to be an avid gardener to grow bulbs – it really can be an easy form of gardening with a huge reward at the end, as long as you follow some simple directions.

Purchasing the bulbs

Make sure that the bulbs you buy are firm with no signs of soft rot or disease on them.  Bulbs are truly an amazing wonder of the plant world.  A lot like a tiny seed that will grow to form a tree.  Inside the bulb you will have fleshy layers that will grow to form the flower stem, the bud and in turn the flower, all the plants reproductive parts, the necessary plant tissue for food storage plus the roots of the plant for water and nutrient absorption.  It’s always a thrill to see what they become.  When you are choosing your bulbs, select bulb species that are suited to your climatic zone. Some easy to grow bulbs (especially here in the Hilltops region of NSW) are Daffodils, Jonquils, Freesias, Tulips, Bluebells and Hyacinths.

Soil Conditions

The soil temperature will need to be between 13 – 23 degrees when you plant out your bulbs. I would normally first store your bulbs in the crisper of your fridge for up to 6 weeks to give them the false winter coolness, store them in a paper bag so that they won’t sweat and then plant them out. They need the cool ground temperatures to promote flowering. There are bulb species suited to every climate.  They need to be planted in autumn as most bulbs will need cooler ground temperatures to promote flowering.  The warmer your climate the later in autumn you need to plant your bulbs. Most bulbs will require an open sunny site with well drained soils.  It is important to have the soil well prepared before planting as it will be difficult to improve the soil once the bulbs are planted without disturbing them. 

Planting Location

Ensure where you are planting out your bulbs it is a well-drained location as boggy soils will cause many bulbs to rot and they will then never flower. Turn the soil over a few times – remove any weeds and rocks so that the bulbs are going into a friable mix where they can easily set down roots. If you are planting out the bulbs in pots, buy a premium garden soil mix.  Also, most bulbs will like a full sun location.  Check the package direction before planting. 

White Tulips always make an elegant floral display

Planting Bulbs

Every bulb is slightly different however a rough guideline is that you plant them twice as deep as the bulbs width.  Back fill the planting area with the soil or garden mix.  Scatter some slow release fertiliser over the top of soil then water well.  You can then place a fine layer of sugar cane mulch over the top.

On Going Care

Water your bulbs regularly to ensure the soil is moist but not wet, continue this right through to the end of flowering. They may need additional water once shoots and flowers form.  Once the foliage appears above ground you can apply liquid fertiliser every two weeks. After flowering, feed bulbs with a controlled-release fertiliser. It is best to leave the bulbs undisturbed in the ground or pot while their foliage dies off as this is the time that they are gathering food and nutrients for the following years flowering.  After this time, you can lift bulbs and store them in a cool dry location until next year’s planting.

Conditions

There are bulb species suited to every climate.  They need to be planted in autumn as most bulbs will need cooler ground temperatures to promote flowering.  The warmer your climate, the later in autumn you need to plant your bulbs. Most bulbs will require an open sunny site with well drained soils.  It is important to have the soil well prepared before planting as it will be difficult to improve the soil once the bulbs are planted without disturbing them.

Cooler Climate Bulbs

Spider lilies, Cyclamens, Snow drops, Snowflakes, Lily of the Valley, Bluebells, Crocus, Hyacinth, Alliums, Daffodils

Warmer Climate Bulbs

Jonquil, Ranunculus, Snowflake, Watsonia, Baboon Flower, Belladonna Lilies, Corn Lily, Dahlia, Freesia, Hippeastrum

 

It is important to note that many of the above mentioned bulbs are able to be grown in both climates. It is just a matter of locating them in positions either more protected from frost (for warmer climate species) or in shadier locations (for cooler climate bulbs).

You can also attempt to imitate certain conditions if you feel you really must grow a bulb species which isn’t suited to your area.  For example in a warmer climate you could place ice cubes on the soil around your bulbs each morning.  It may trick your cool climate bulbs into flowering.  I have tried this with Allium Bulbs in Sydney’s climate and it worked well to encourage flowering.

DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS

Flowering time

With time and experience you will be able to get a good idea on when your bulb flowering time will be each year.  This may take a number of years to work out and can always vary slightly depending on the seasonal weather.

Colour selection

Bulbs are available in a wide range of colours, this will allow you to create many different looks.  For a more cottage garden effect you could use a mixture of pastel shades of white, blue and pink.  Plant these out randomly to create a pretty effect. Following this colour scheme you use white Freesias, blue Hyacinths and pink Tulips,  For a more striking affect you could just use one species in the one colour on mass.

If you have established garden beds and can’t fit large scale plantings of bulbs you could simply scatter plantings throughout existing plants so that in spring their gorgeous flowers pop up through the established plants. It is interesting to plant bulbs under deciduous perennials where the bulb flowers will pop up before the perennials begin to re shoot their spring leaves.  Another idea would be to plant low growing flowering annuals (such as Alyssum or Pansy) over the top of the bulbs.    

Sizing

It is important to make an educated guess on what the expected flower and foliage heights of your bulbs will be.  Many bulbs will have a single flower stem first and then the leaves will come up after flowering others will have leaves that will always be shorter than the flower or others may have leaves that actually cradle the flower and support it throughout the season. If you are planting out a garden bed that is only viewed from one side try to do a layered planting of taller growing bulbs towards the back of the bed and shorter bulbs at the front.  Depending on your location some species may be left in the garden after they flower.  This will mean that in years to come the bulbs will spread and take up more area each year.  It is always a good idea to mark where your bulbs are planted or to draw a plan of where the bulbs are growing.  This will hopefully stop you from accidently digging up bulbs.

Perennials and bulbs combined in this garden bed at Hidcote

Glenice Buck
glenice@glenicebuckdesigns.com.au