SPECTACULAR SPRING | All you need to know about planting spring bulbs
It’s that strange in-between time of year where summer is not quite ready to say goodbye yet and fall is slowly starting to sneak in. Sunshine and t-shirts one day, gray clouds and thick jumpers the next.
The garden is glowing while it makes one last big push before winding down for winter. The most beautiful colors everywhere I turn, from glorious dahlias to asters, Japanese anemones, the last of the roses and plenty of cosmos.
I love the changing seasons and, after a long hot summer, the thought of tea, thick socks and snuggling up on the sofa is quite appealing. On those gloomy days, it feels a little like fall whispering that it'll be time to hibernate soon.
Any thoughts of spring may be far, far from your mind right now – but don’t put down that spade just yet! I'm sending you back out into the garden one last time.
And I PROMISE that you’ll thank me in a few months’ time. Just when the novelty of being stuck indoors has thoroughly worn off, you’ll be rewarded with a colorful spectacle of spring flowers that chases away the brownish-gray winter world.
Seeing those first little bits of green start to poke their way through the frozen ground makes my heart skip a little with joy every year. No wonder green is the color of hope! Snowdrops, crocuses, tulips, daffodils, hyacinths – there’s just no end to the options. And for a truly spectacular spring show, the mantra has to be: go big or go home! Think densely filled clusters of plants rather than the odd tulip dotted around here or there.
Looking for the perfect spring bulbs? I have just the thing in my Shop.
I’m not the biggest fan of yellow so traditional daffodils were never quite my thing. But then I discovered there’s so much more to the narcissus family. Just have a look at these beauties!
So grab those thick socks, wellies and woolly hats and get your hands muddy one more time.
ALL ABOUT PLANTING SPRING BULBS
Fall is the time to get your spring bulbs into the ground. Depending on the climate where you live, this is usually around October and November although as long as the ground hasn't frozen yet, you can keep planting right through to December.
Tempting as it may be, don't plant your bulbs too early. The perfect time is when the ground has cooled down and the air has that particular feel (and sometimes even smell) that suggests that winter is on its way. Otherwise, the roots won’t grow and you run the risk of your bulbs rotting.
First rule: the pointy bit is the top, the round bit the bottom. A little like an egg, I guess. As a rule of thumb, bulbs should be dug down at about two to three times their size and spaced apart around three times their size. But don’t get too technical about the positioning. Bulbs are smart cookies with strong roots that will literally ‘drag’ them to wherever they’re supposed to be.
Much more important is the type of soil and that waterlogging must be avoided at all cost. The latter puts your bulbs at risk of rotting. They do best in well-draining soil that’s rich in humus. If your soil is heavy and clay(ey), mix in a bit of sand. And if you want to be extra-caring, work in a little compost or organic fertilizer.
Water them well right after planting to stimulate growth, then leave them be until spring.
Tulip "Pink Treasure"
I’d usually say sunny spots are better than shade. Having said that, most trees shouldn’t be covered in leaves yet so you’ll probably have a bigger choice of locations that would be too shady in the summer. Whether in flower beds, pots or straight in the lawn (or all of it!) is entirely up to you.
I think they look prettiest when they're planted a little randomly and in clusters of different varieties. To make things look even more natural (a little like a spring meadow), scatter them around and dig them in wherever they land.
Bulbs are relatively easy to care for (apart from protecting them from waterlogging). Once they're in the ground, you don't really need to do anything until they’ve finished flowering. If it’s very dry and warm, water them around once a week come springtime.
Most of them come back year after year and, if they’re happy campers, will even propagate. They’ll be grateful for a little extra food in the spring (once the first leaves have sprouted) and reward you by flowering even more abundantly. I'd recommend an organic slow-release fertilizer.
One thing to bear in mind: the more spectacular the tulip (I’m talking fringed and parrot tulips) the less likely it is that they'll be around for many years. Most tulips only develop one large flowering bulb. If they do have ‘babies’, they’re smaller offsets that will take a few years to become full-sized flowering bulbs. This means that most of them will keep getting weaker with each passing year until they disappear entirely. If you don’t want to have gaps, the best thing to do is throw in a few new tulip bulbs each year.
Bulbs in Pots
I’ve been in a battle with voles (more on 'tulip foes' coming up) so this year I'm planting most of my bulbs in pots. Come spring, I can move them around to where I want them, including right into the flower beds.
There are just a few things you need to know if you want your bulbs to thrive in their potted homes.
Size matters. The larger your pot, the happier your bulbs. Terracotta pots are better than plastic pots because they allow any excess moisture to evaporate, which means less risk of waterlogging than with plastic. And plastic isn’t all that cottage garden(ish) anyway, right?
Tulip "Dream Touch"
I’m sorry to be going on and ooooon about this but trust me, it’s important. Make sure that excess water can drain off. If your pots don’t have holes in the bottom already and the material allows it (like zink baths or pots), drill some in. Use pot shards or pebbles for a good drainage system. Putting a bit of sand underneath the bulbs can help prevent rotting too. You could even place your pots on stands to stop them from freezing from underneath. The marvellous Danish gardener Claus Dalby's number one tip is to plant your bulbs, water them once and then cover them. When spring arrives and the first shoots start to show, uncover them and start watering as needed.
In a perfect world, you'd have somewhere to keep the pots during the ‘proper’ winter weather so that they'll stay cold but protected. It could be a greenhouse, garage or garden shed. If you don’t have access to any of those, bury your pots in a pile of autumn leaves for a little extra warmth. You want to avoid letting your soil freeze through.
Once you've watered the bulbs, they won't need any water again until spring.
Tulip "Copper Image"
Remember that bulbs absorb their nutrients for the next year from their plant leaves so, unsightly as this may be, you need to leave them until they have fully wilted. I know it can be frustrating but trust me, there’s no way around it. At least not if you want to have strong plants the following year.
So, for a while, it won’t be the prettiest sight. But: there’s a way around it. Perennials that sort of ‘dovetail’ blooming and cover up the messy bits with their new, fresh leaves. I like columbines, peonies and cat nip.
Voles! They’ve been my nemesis for a few years now. They love nothing more than feasting on a nice bulb, especially if it's a tulip. I found that out the hard way after planting 800 bulbs a few years ago and having about 100 of them survive. The little critters are insatiable! If your garden is at risk of voles, I’d suggest covering the ground underneath with close-knit wire mesh, grow them in planters or keep them in pots. Or plant fritillarias! The bulbs are not on the 'preferred vole menu' and, even better, they’re supposed to keep the critters at bay.
Fritillaria "Green Dreams"
Have I gotten you as excited as I am? I’ve hunted high and low to find the strongest, most beautiful and unusual varieties for you and you'll find them all in the My Cottage Garden shop. They’re selling like hot cakes so don’t wait too long.
Take me to the Spring Bulb Shop!
Happy shopping, happy digging and then happy hibernating.
P.S. If you're still looking for the perfect tools to make planting a doddle, I can wholeheartedly recommend these two.
Photos: Janina Laszlo, Florapress, Seila Malo