Spring bulbs will now start appearing in stores, planted in late summer/early autumn they will flower in the coming spring. Buying bulbs is the one time that it is OK to give the product a squeeze! In fact necessary to ensure you purchase strong healthy bulbs. Check that there is a bulb inside the outer dried husk and if the bulb feels spongy and soft then it is beginning to rot, leave these and move on to better ones.
Spring bulbs are almost foolproof to grow, carrying all they need inside the bulb and will grow in most soil provided the drainage is good. Drainage is the key, if the water sits too long in the soil the bulb will rot.
Prepare the soil before planting by breaking up any clumps use hand trowel or fork for this working the soil to a nice loose consistency so the bulb can easily push its way through the soil. If you feel that your soil is poor add compost to enrich it but it needs be added to the soil and dug through a couple of weeks prior to planting as it is too rich to be directly applied to the bulb.
When you are ready to plant lightly fork through the soil around where you are going to plant a small handful of blood and bone or bulb food. Planting is best done with a Transplanting Trowel it is narrower and pointier than a normal trowel, giving you the width and depth needed for small holes. Water once the bulb is planted.
When you purchase bulbs the instructions for planting depth will be on the back of the packet but if you don’t have it then check on our handy depth guide. Bulbs are planted top pointing up sometimes this can be a little difficult to tell, so if you ever get stuck you can always plant them on their sides and leave it to nature to sort out.
In the driest of spring bulbs will need watering especially if they are in pots, always soak well rather than a little often. As the foliage turns yellow watering can be reduced
Once your bulbs have finished flowering they will benefit from a final feed of blood and bone or bulb food, apply around the bulb and water it in. Nature is using this time to ripen the bulb and store food for the coming season and it needs the foliage to do this, so let it die away naturally resist the urge to cut or yank it off, it will come away easily when it is ready.
Lifting and Dividing
Most bulbs can be left in the ground for many years before you need to lift and divide them but they do eventually become overcrowded. If you are going to lift and divide your bulbs then wait until the foliage has completely died away, mark the area with some small stakes if it is going to be awhile until you get to them.
Start by gently loosening the soil around the whole clump of bulbs, then using a Fork get right underneath the bulbs and lift the clump up as a whole, soil and all. A fork rather than a spade will reduce the risk of cutting the bulbs. Work out the bulbs from the soil with your hands, discard any damaged ones, and divide what is necessary.
Bulbs will produce offsets or daughter bulbs of the parent bulb each season you will see these when you lift the clump to divide. Smaller bulbs like Freesia, Sparaxis and Grape hyacinths form these offset bulbs very rapidly, remove from the parent and re planted, they will produce flowers once they have matured. Larger bulbs like Daffodils are a little slower and may only have 1-2 daughter bulbs – these are detached when they are fairly rounded and come away easily. Sometimes you will notice a daffodil bulb that has split but not detached (see diagram) this is ripe for division, carefully separate then plant.
Replant the bulbs you want straight away, prepare the rest for storage, don’t leave lifted bulbs out in the sun, they are liable to cook rather than dry.
For whatever reason sometimes you may need to lift a clump of bulbs before they have died down naturally, although it is not the best thing for the bulbs it can be done. Dig a shallow hole in a safe area; it doesn’t need to be perfect you are just heeling them in. Lift the whole bulb clump from the ground keep as much soil around it as you can then place in to the new hole, Ensure the clump is covered to soil level and leave them to die down then you can then decide where you will plant them permanently.
The bulbs need a place to dry off, garage or garden shed as long as you have room and it is dry, the process only takes a few days. Empty black seedling trays are good for drying trays but a piece of newspaper laid out on a concrete floor or flat surface works just as well, give them some room and lay them in a single layer. Once dry, clean away any remaining soil and dust lightly with Flowers of Sulphur to protect them from bugs and disease while they are stored. Keep them dry till they are ready to plant, check them over occasionally to make sure none are rotting, mesh onion bags are useful for this as they provide ventilation and they can be hung up out of the way.
Bulbs in Pots
If space is a problem then planting spring bulbs in pots is the answer, bulbs adapt very well to pots and most bulbs can be planted in pots. The care, planting and attention doesn’t vary from planting them in the ground, use a good quality mix to get the best results. To complete your pot and fill in the bare spaces until the bulbs grow, annuals can be planted on top of the bulbs.
If you want your plantings to look natural then grab a handful of bulbs and gently roll them on the ground – plant them where they stop.
It can be easy to forget where you have planted you bulbs mark them with a small stake to avoid inadvertently digging them up.
Label your stored bulbs just in case you forget what they are!