Flowering bulbs are a beautiful addition to any garden. Flowering from the beginning of spring they signal the end of winter with a burst of colour and fragrance. Easy to plant and requiring little maintenance, even inexperienced gardeners should have no trouble raising an impressive flower display.

Autumn is the traditional time to plant flowering bulbs, but, depending on the bulb, the planting season can actually range from mid-summer (anemones, daffodils, ranunculi etc.) to early winter (tulips, hyacinths, bluebells crocus, iris etc.).

Buying Bulbs

When choosing your flowering bulbs make sure they are healthy. If you’re new to gardening, just pretend you’re buying an onion (itself a bulb). Avoid dry, withered, soggy or mouldy specimens.

The Right Location

Many bulbs prefer full sun – anemones, freesia, hyacinth, iris, allium, ranunculus, for instance. There are some, though, that will tolerate shade – anemones, crocus, lachenalia, scilla, hyacinth, tulips.

When planting, take into consideration the amount of sunlight your proposed flower bed will get and buy your bulbs accordingly.

Preparing the Soil

Bulbs need well drained soil. An environment that holds too much water around the bulb will cause it to grow soggy and rot.

If the soil in your garden is poorly drained, you can plant bulbs in raised beds. For gardens where the soil is clayey, sand or pumice can be worked into the area where bulbs will be planted.

Like any other plant, bulbs need nutrients to grow and flower to their full potential. To this end, a good quality bulb fertiliser should be added to the soil before planting.

Planting Your Bulbs

Dig a hole wide enough to hold the bulb and between 2 and 3 times the bulb’s diameter deep (so, if your bulb has a diameter of 5 cm, you’ll need a hole between 10 cm and 15 cm deep).

Place the bulb at the bottom of this hole, pointy side up. The pointy part is the stem of the plant. The roots will grow from the opposite end.

Fill the hole in with soil and water. Simple.

Note 1: The deeper you plant the bulb, the longer it will take to flower. Therefore, you can stagger the appearance of flowers in your flower bed by planting your bulbs at different depths.

Note 2: As there is a long interval between planting a bulb and its emergence above ground, it is a good idea to mark where you’ve planted them in order to avoid disturbing them with other plantings.

Care of Your Bulbs

A layer of mulch about 2 cm deep over your bulbs will help keep them cool and moist. This should be applied soon after planting.

Water as necessary during the growing /flowering season. During the dormant period, unless the ground is very dry, the bulb can be left alone.

When shoots begin to show above ground, administer bulb fertiliser, and again when the plant has finished flowering (to nourish the ground for next year).

Bulbs are vulnerable to slugs and snails, particularly when the shoots are emerging. Protect them with slug and snail killer.

After the Flowers Have Gone

Once your bulbs have flowered they won’t flower again until next season. The flower will die and fall away, leaving the remaining foliage of the plant to slowly wither. These desiccating leaves can look untidy in a garden, but do not cut them away until they have properly died off. Your bulb is still there, under the ground, and those leaves are feeding it the energy it needs to store for its flowering next year.

You can tidy things up a bit by folding the leaves into a bunch and securing with string or a rubber band.

Lifting Bulbs

After their attendant foliage has died off, bulbs can be removed from the ground, or lifted, and stored in a cool, dark, dry place until next planting season. However, unless the ground is likely to become very hot during summer (in which case the bulbs will bake and die), digging the bulbs up is not necessary and they can happily be left where they are season after season.

Bulbs in Pots

One of the attractive features of flowering bulbs is that they can be grown in pots and displayed indoors.

  • Use a quality potting mix in your pot, plant as above, water and leave in a shady position outside.
  • When shoots emerge, place the pot in full sun.
  • Bring the pot indoors when the plant flowers.

Note: Pots can dry out, so make sure the plant has adequate water during its growing season.

Year After Year

With a little attention to soil preparation, depth of planting and location, your spring and summer can be enriched, year after year, with the colourful and fragrant beauty of flowering bulbs.

Learn more about planting flowering bulbs here.


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