Cooler nights and mornings, heavier dews and a few foggy mornings are signs that autumn is just around the corner.
This change of season has moved us into the time for selecting and planting spring flowering bulbs.
Call into the garden centre to check out all the types available and you can view all the pictures on the packets. Often by the time later-planting varieties such as tulips have arrived, the first varieties of freesias have sold out so several trips is highly recommended.
One of my favourite sights is daffodils. This 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 warmer temperatures, new growth and sunshine. You can have this at your house by planting your own bulbs. There are many options other than daffodils that can be planted, so here is some information on a few of them.
Freesia: These bulbs are favourites of many people, producing outstanding blooms in rose, red, yellow, blue and white on stems 30-50cm high. They often benefit from support to keep the stems upright. Many of the varieties have a delicious sweet scent.
Anemones: Also known as windflowers or St Brigid's anemones, these cheerful flowers brighten florists' windows during winter to late spring. 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 sun or part shade in cool and moist soil. Anemone "de caen mixed" provide a brilliant display in reds, rose, lavender, blue, white etc. Bulb fertiliser when planting helps improve flowering and growth. Also available in single colours.
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.
Ixias: These delightful South African bulbs are among the showiest of spring flowering plants. A colour mix of cerise red, yellow, pink, cream and rose flowers 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 summer.
Grape hyacinth – Muscari: Traditionally only available in a rich cobalt blue, on 10-15cm stems. This year, however, we also have a white variety available in store now. Muscari are quite hardy and tolerant to most conditions. For a bold effect, plant in standalone 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, plant in large pots or a bowl just below the soil surface. Fertilise each year using Tui Bulb Fertiliser.
A hardy and easy-to-grow bulb producing 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 and plant in free draining soil. Plant 3-5cm deep and 4-6cm apart. Applying bulb fertiliser, as with all bulbs, will improve the results.
Crocus: They 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.
Daffodils in containers
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.
Daffodils grow well in pots if they are deep enough to allow the bulb to be covered to 1½ times their own depth. They grow well in full sun or semi-shade and respond to liquid feeds such as Yates Thrive Liquid or Ican Fast Food when buds appear. They are popular for clump planting to combine with other spring annual flowers such as alyssum, nemesia, pansy, viola, polyanthus etc.
They are excellent for growing in tubs, pots or troughs outdoors or for bowls indoors, particularly the miniature varieties or "rockery" daffodils. Daffodil bulbs can be planted closer together in containers than in a garden situation and perform very successfully.
Daffodils in the garden
Daffodils are valuable for formal bedding and to provide early seasonal interest in the mixed garden border. They are one of the most reliable bulbs for naturalising and rarely need to be lifted from borders or grass. They grow in virtually any moist slightly alkaline soils in a sun or light dappled shade position. Plant the bulbs about 4-6cm deep during late summer and autumn. When bulbs are naturalised in grass allow the old foliage to die back each year before mowing. Use bulb food when planting at 200g (about two-thirds of a cup) per square metre and apply a side dressing of 100g (about one-third of a cup) per square metre when the flower stems begin to show. Always water the fertiliser in well. Unlike hyacinths and tulips, daffodil bulbs do not require chilling or placing in the fridge to stimulate growth and flowering before planting out.
Don't lose them
Bulbs in the garden can sometimes be forgotten about during summer and one has to be careful not to dig them up. To keep bulbs grouped they can be planted in bulb baskets. These are open plastic baskets that come in a range of sizes and can be used year after year. Place them in the ground with the 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 control your bulbs.
Have a great week.
• Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale Garden Centre