The Back Yard
Justin Newcombe's tips for creating a gorgeous and productive garden

Gardening: Plant now for spring

By Justin Newcombe


You're running out of time to plant your bulbs for spring flowers. Justin Newcombe has some handy tips for a post-winter burst of colour.

Springtime tulips will be a welcome sight after a bleak winter. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times
Springtime tulips will be a welcome sight after a bleak winter. Photo / Bay of Plenty Times

Seeing as summer's only just finished, next spring seems like a long way off but it's getting more than a little late to be planting bulbs. You may think "what's the point, if for most of the year you've got a brown patch of nothing that comes to life only for a brief moment in time?"

In a small property where everything is visible, this is quite a commitment. However, when I see the resulting flowers I can't help but feel they are among the most magnificent colours and textures you can get in a garden - not to mention the wonderful scent. It's not surprising the ancients found the appearance of these spring flowers to be a supernatural event after a bleak winter.

There are many variants of bulbs, but also a few favourites which really get gardeners going - and a few ground rules to follow.

First, soil preparation is important: bulbs love a free-draining, rich soil, so invest in good soil structure before you begin. Check your bulbs are suitable to your environment. Some like the dog's tooth violet (erythronium), which is native to forests and meadows in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, does well in shade, so look for a spot under cover.

Fritillaries and bluebells are also great in the shade.

Of course you don't have to plant your bulbs in garden at all. Bulbs such as tulips do very well indeed in pots and containers. With tulips you need to create a strong contrast between winter and spring, so the first step is to create a bitter winter chill to set the charge for a spring colour explosion. Whack them in the fridge for a month or two before you plant them.

Plant them in pots of shallow dishes and keep them in a shady dry spot until they start to show, then transfer them into full sun and increase the watering right through their flowering time. The pots make them easy to handle, dig up and split ready for next year.

Grape hyacinth or muscari is another favourite, which is also pretty easy to grow. This has an upright flowering crown with a cluster of purple blooms forming a head that resembles a bunch of grapes, hence the name. Massed under azaleas, muscari puts on a vivacious show as it flowers at the same time.

Unlike tulips there's no to-ing and fro-ing with these fellas, just find a sunny or semi-shade spot and plant, taking care to prepare the soil. Dig up the hyacinth every second year, freshen the soil, split the bulbs and replant.

If you're looking for some spring scent you can't go past freesias and for cut flowers go for gladioli. If you're still concerned about big brown patches in your garden while you wait for your spring surprises to appear, then plant behind borders, low hedges or in troughs or containers. Your gloomy patch of dirt may seem wretched on a wet winter day, but don't despair, this will only add to the wonder of spring as your bulbs magically welcome in the new season.

3 of the best: Loud songs to listen to while you garden

Boston: More Than a Feeling
I actually think this should be our national anthem. Imagine the Te Reo version. Really kicks the day off.

The theme to Mortal Kombat
When you're struggling with the neighbour's cat (which your wife adopted), a plague of white butterfly or an infestation of dandelion in your lawn, you need to prepare yourself to go in hard.

Guns N'Roses: Paradise City
Something appropriate for the greatest city in the world, plus listening to it at lunch time makes my pie taste so much better.

- NZ Herald

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