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Planting Bulbs

Planting Bulbs

Plant your garden bulbs with the pointed end up and the roots down. It’s easy to tell which end is up on many bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils. Others, like garden anemones, are a bit harder to decipher. If you’re not too sure, then plant that particular bulb on its side! But even if you manage to plant them the wrong way up, most bulbs will eventually upright themselves as they grow.

Planting bulbs can provide your garden with fresh flowers throughout the particular plant's flowering season. For the UK garden there are generally considered to be just two bulb categories: spring-flowering; including early summer- flowering bulbs and summer and autumn flowering bulbs.

Spring-Flowering Bulbs

Spring-flowering bulbs are usually planted in the early to mid autumn whilst the ground still has a little residual warmth. Common spring flowering bulbs include varieties of tulip, daffodil and hyacinth. These bulbs are hardy and must experience cold temperatures to bloom.

Most spring-flowering bulbs prefer full sun or partial shade and since early spring bulbs come into flower before most UK trees or shrubs come into leaf, they can often be planted under those trees and shrubs where other plants would not survive.

The general rule for planting spring-flowering bulbs is to plant them three times as deep as the bulb is tall. So large bulbs like tulips will be planted fairly deep, whilst smaller bulbs will be able to be planted just a few centimetres deep.

Summer and Autumn-flowering Bulbs

Summer and autumn-flowering bulbs, not all of which are hardy, grow best in warm temperatures. Summer-flowering bulbs include the alliums, lilies, caladiums and cannas. Less well-known autumn-flowering bulbs, such as the autumn crocus, are planted in the summer and add colour to the garden at the end of the season.

If you live in a warm zone, you can grow tender bulbs but try to remember that the summer-flowering bulbs vary in their hardiness but many of them can be left in the ground all winter in warmer areas. Tender bulbs can be grown in the northern areas of the UK, but they must only be planted out in the spring and over-wintered indoors or you may have to replace them annually.

Be carefully where you decide to plant your bulbs. Remember that most bulbs prefer full sun or partial shade. Summer-flowering bulbs grow and flower after the native trees are in full leaf, so be sure to plant them where they won’t get too much shade.

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Buying Bulbs

When buying bulbs be sure to read the planting information in the bulb catalogue, advertisement or supplied with the particular bulbs.

Catalogues are great sources of unusual bulbs. If you are interested in hard-to-find heirloom bulbs, check the catalogue at Old House Gardens.

If you’re not sure which bulbs will grow in your region, start by purchasing bulbs from a local garden centre. They will carry bulbs appropriate for your climate and can give you specific planting instructions.

When buying bulbs, choose the biggest and firmest ones on display, avoiding small, soft, moldy, or bruised bulbs. If you can’t plant your bulbs right away, store them in a cool, dry place.

Preparing the ground for planting bulbs before planting bulbs is very important. As bulbs generally do their best in well-drained soil, so if your soil is heavy, you must improve it with organic material such as compost or peat moss, worked into the top twelve inches of soil.

Some people prefer planting bulbs one at a time with a bulb planter, though it’s easier to plant them in groups. Dig and loosen a large area of prepared soil to the proper depth, scatter a little bulb fertilizer, press the bulbs into the soil, and then cover them with soil. You can plant bulbs close together, but they should not touch each other. If you plant at least five or six bulbs in each hole, your plantings will look showier and more natural.

Water bulbs after planting to settle the soil and give the bulbs moisture to start rooting. Summer bulbs should be kept watered throughout the growing season. Let the soil dry out between waterings. Over-watering can cause bulbs to rot. You can help protect your bulbs from pillaging rodents by covering the planting area with chicken wire. Or try adding a handful of sharp gravel to the planting hole.

After the flowers and stems die back, the bulb foliage naturally turns yellow. Try to avoid cutting back the leaves until they die naturally as the plants need the leaves to produce food to fuel next year’s blooms. You can hopefully disguise the fading bulb foliage by interplanting bulbs with perennials. As the perennials grow, they will hide the unsightly bulb foliage. You may also choose to plant annuals in front of your fading bulbs.

Bulbs supply all the energy they need to produce blooms during the first year. After that, feed bulbs annually with a bulb fertilizer so they continue flowering in future seasons.

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