I really enjoy the month of September as I spend a lot of it bulb planting, and this to me is greatly enjoyable. What I am doing is ensuring that my spring garden will be a delight - full of colour and interest.
Most types of soil are suitable for bulbs. However, avoid very wet ones as these can cause the bulbs to rot. The soil should be forked over before planting and heavy clay can be improved by adding plenty of grit and compost.
Most bulbs already have their flower buds developed inside them and do not need feeding, so don’t apply any fertilizer. You can start planting most bulbs once they are available in the garden centres, but leave tulips until November. The cooler soil temperature helps prevent a disease called Tulip fire. Avoid planting into frozen soil.
A lot of people worry about the depth of planting and these days this advice is normally given on the packet. If, however, you are buying loose bulbs the following rule of thumb applies - they should be planted twice as deep as the bulb’s height. For example, small bulbs such as Crocus, Scilla, Muscari and snowdrops should be planted 10cm deep, while tulips and daffodils should go in at 20cm deep.
Various tools may be used for planting from a garden trowel or even a spade. These days you can obtain a special bulb planter which removes a core of soil. You then plant the bulb and replace the soil. These tools are fine on heavy soils but do not work on light sandy ones.
Remember, where it is obvious, plant the pointed end of the bulb upwards but, where you have a job trying to decide which way up they should go for e.g. with aconites or anemones, don’t worry, just lie them on the soil at the correct depth. They will sort themselves out and will still come up the right way, if you’ve been unlucky and got it wrong.
If the autumn is a dry one it’s advisable to water the bulbs after planting because it is water that starts the bulbs into growth. Remember to apply enough as the water needs to get down to the base of the bulb to have any effect.
If planting bulbs in layers in a container fill a pot or container with a small amount of compost. Place the required number of bulbs on the first layer and then cover with compost and water this layer, repeat the operation until you have the required number of layers in the container.
If you do not water each layer it can be some time before the bulbs at the base of the container receive enough water to start them into growth, while those nearest the surface will already be growing as these received enough moisture before those at the base of the container. This can lead to a poor display.
A lot of people ask me if they should wrap their containers or pots in winter. My general answer is: No, provided the pots or containers are raised off the ground so any drainage hole are not blocked or sealed by standing on the ground. Good drainage is essential for nearly all bulbs.
I love seeing bulbs when they are planted in drifts and also naturalized. This can be carried out by planting the bulbs in grass, around the bases of trees or even under deciduous shrubs. Use bulbs such as Crocus, snowdrops, and Scillas. Remember to plant them in a random pattern and place them in groups of 4 - 6 bulbs per group allowing enough space between each bulb so that they can reproduce and spread.
I always advise people to use their money wisely when bulb planting, and try and prevent themselves acting like a child in a sweet shop. Do not buy half a dozen of everything you see or you will end up with a garden that looks just like a mixed up patchwork quit. Go for large numbers of individual species and plant in large drifts. After all, it’s sheets of colour that spring to mind when we think of bulbs, not just one or two bulbs scattered around the garden.
After the plants have given you their show the bulbs may be left in the soil or can be dug up depending on where they are planted. If you are lifting them ensure that they die back fully and that the foliage has dried completely. Lift them, clean off the loose scales and soil and store them in a cool place ready for planting next year.