THE sight of flowering daffodils is synonymous with the end of winter and the start of spring. It is a conjures up a feeling of fresh air and the hope of a summer full of sunshine! Growing bulbs is generally pretty easy and requires little more than some forward planning. To have a spring flowering bulb display, though, one must be buying and planting bulbs now.
There are many options other than daffodils that can be planted, so here is some information on a few of them. I recommend a trip into the garden centre to check out all the types available and you can view all the pictures on the packets.
Anemones: Also known as windflowers or Saint Brigid's anemones as these cheerful flowers are traditionally called, brighten the florists' windows during the winter to late spring months. They are particularly striking as a cut flower for a table decoration. They can be planted now at a depth of 3-4cm and 6-8cm apart in a sun or part shade position in soil that is cool and moist. Anemone 'de caen mixed' provide a brilliant display in reds, rose, lavender, blue, white etc. An application of bulb fertiliser when planting helps improve flowering and growth. Also available in single colours. A tip for increasing the often poor germination of these is to first chill in the fridge for 5-6 weeks, then soak in fresh running water for 10-12 hours prior to planting. Sitting them in a saucer in the sink with the tap dripping/running slightly overnight will do the trick.
Ranunculus: They grow well outdoors with anemones in a well composted soil and come in a variety of bright colours including red, mahogany, gold, white, orange and salmon. It is important to use the same soaking method as described above for anemones to achieve successful germination rates.
Ixias: These are delightful South African bulbs and are amongst the showiest of spring flowering plants. A colour mix of cerise red, yellow, pink, cream and rose flower profusely on 30-40cm wiry stems. They are best planted in a drier, sunnier position with good drainage. Plant in well worked soil 4-5cm deep and 6-8cm apart. As the tops develop water freely until the flowers have faded. After flowering allow the bulbs to dry off as one would freesias before lifting and storing them for the summer months.
Fritillarias: These are a hardy bulbous plant that like fairly deep, loose, rich soil in a cooler semi-shaded spot. They produce unusual bell-shaped flowers and are often a talking point when in flower. The delicate fleshy bulbs should be planted 4-6cm deep and 8-10cm apart and be left undisturbed for at least four years.
Grape Hyacinth - Muscari: These produce flowers of rich cobalt blue on 10-15cm stems. They are quite hardy and tolerant to most conditions in the garden. For a bold effect plant in stand alone clumps or as a group in a border. Plant 3-5cm deep and 4-5cm apart in well worked soil. To keep the bulbs grouped they can be planted in large pots or a bowl placed just below the soil surface. Fertilise each year using Fiesta Bulb Fertiliser or similar.
Dutch Irises: These are a hardy and easy to grow bulb that produces excellent flowers in late spring that are valued as a cut flower. They bloom after daffodils and tulips have finished and prefer a sunny well drained position. Plant 6-8cm deep, 12-15cm apart in well prepared soil.
Iris Reticulata: A stunning miniature iris. They are versatile and can be planted in pots and tubs for patio display, rockeries or garden borders as a bold clump. Position in full sun in free draining soil. Plant 3-5cm deep and 4-6cm apart, applying bulb fertiliser as with all bulbs will improve the results!
Crocus: These are said to "herald the coming of spring", being a hardy, early spring flowering bulb. They grow well in shady cool spots or under deciduous trees in bold groups. They make a great show when grown in bowls. For best results from planting in containers use a good bulb potting mix and place in a cool shady spot until shoots appear and then bring them inside or close to the house as they start to flower.
Tulips: These are one of my favourites, coming from a similar cold, hard climate to hyacinths, cool growing conditions are important for good results. It's best to put the bulbs into the fridge (not the freezer) for four to five weeks before planting. They need a period of chill as they start to grow and prefer a mild, dry summer. Tulips need excellent drainage and prefer alkaline soils. This means that in acid soil areas (eg, where hydrangeas are naturally blue flowered and in soils where azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias grow well) it's best to add some lime to the soil before planting together with some Tui Bulb Food and some old organic compost matter. Tulips form deep roots so make sure they are planted into well-dug, deep garden soil. Most tulips thrive in fertile, well-drained humus rich soil in sun with shelter. Many are regarded as annual bedding plants, being lifted after flowering and discarded or replanted in the autumn each year after a period of chilling.
Tulips include an impressive range of flower forms from the simple, single upright goblets of single flowered types to the frilled and twisted petals of Parrot tulips and double blooms of the peony flowered forms. They are available in most colours from pure white to deep purple with many shades of yellow, red and crimson in between. They are grown very successfully in containers, garden beds and borders.
Daffodils: Daffodils are highly valued for the bold splashes of colour and fragrance they bring to the garden in late winter and spring. Many daffodils are especially suitable for naturalising in grass areas. They are among the easiest and most rewarding bulbs to grow.
Don't lose them!
When growing bulbs in the garden they can sometimes be forgotten about during the summer months when they are dormant and one has to be careful not to dig them up! To keep bulbs grouped they can be planted in bulb baskets. These are fairly open (and cheap!) plastic baskets that come in three sizes. These baskets can be placed in the ground with the basket rim just below the soil surface. The bulbs should be placed at the appropriate planting depth in the parameters of the basket. These are a great way to keep control of your bulbs.
Have a great week.
Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale Garden Centre