Welcome to Autumn!
The lower temperatures during our nights and early mornings have let us know that the change of season is upon us. Autumn is the time for planting spring flowering bulbs.
Planting bulbs is thinking ahead, looking at the pictures on the packets and imagining how they would look in your garden. More and more bulbs are arriving into the garden centre all the time during March.
Now is the time to be dreaming of spring and to buy spring flowering bulbs. Daffodils, Jonquils, Anemones, Freesias, Ranunculus, Crocus, Dutch Iris and others can all be planted straight away.
Tulips and Hyacinths should be kept somewhere cool and dry and later need to be put into the fridge to be chilled for planting in May. The fridge? Why this peculiar custom? To answer this question it helps to look at the areas from which these bulbs originate and appreciate the cold winter temperatures of these areas.
Hyacinths with their fragrant spikes of starry flowers, come from the cold mountainous regions of southern Europe. They are often called Dutch hyacinths because much of the breeding work to develop modern varieties has been carried out in Holland. Placing hyacinth bulbs in the fridge replicates the cold winter temperatures they experience in their native habitat and helps them to perform better in our warmer temperate climate.
Hyacinths also give better results if the plants are gradually introduced to more heat and light once they have started to grow. This again is easy to understand because spring starts slowly in their cold native habitat.
Often it is easier for us to grow hyacinths in pots filled with a bulb growing potting mix than in the garden here in Whanganui. Refrigerate the bulbs first, then after planting, cover the pot with another of similar size to exclude the light. Next, put it into a cool shaded spot (preferably sinking the base down into the soil).
After the hyacinth shoot has emerged, take off the cover and gradually move the pot into more light. The more slowly the hyacinth is exposed to increased heat and light the better it will perform. If the flowers emerge from down near the base, or leaves and stems are floppy, it usually means that the hyacinth growth has developed too quickly.
Hyacinth cultivars are ideal for pot cultivation and can be moved around the garden or brought indoors as a cheerful signal of the coming of spring.
If growing hyacinths in a special glass or flask, fill with water to a level where the bulb base just touches it. Place the bulb on the special glass and put in a cool dark position until roots form. When the flower buds begin to show colour, move the rooted hyacinth into a warm bright room. The flowering shoots will then develop and produce blooms.
After flowering discard the exhausted bulb since it is unlikely to provide a good display the following year.
FREESIAS are one of the darlings of the spring garden, prized as much for fragrance as for cut flowers. Freesias are available in a range of colours as well as double or single flowered types. The cultivated species are from South Africa and are suitable for planting in clumps in the foreground of borders, and in gardens around the house so their delightful fragrance can be appreciated. Freesias also do well in pots on the patio, either on their own or over planted with pansies, violas or polyanthus.
Freesias grow well in the garden for many years without lifting and dividing. They prefer well drained light fertile soil in a warm sunny position. Mix bulb fertiliser into the soil when planting, this will promote good growth and strong and plentiful flowers. If planting freesias in pots, use a specialist mix such as 'Tui bulb potting mix' this has bulb fertiliser already formulated into the blend.
Gareth Carter is General Manager of Springvale Garden Centre